Aug 14, 2017
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UK’s faltering footfall puts fashion in a fix, but lifestyle shifting too

Aug 14, 2017

Fashion struggled at UK retail last month but the whole trend for shoppers to spend their money on experiences such as dining also appeared to falter, new footfall figures for July appear to show.


The monthly BRC-Springboard tracker said that the big winner last month was the retail parks sector with their convenience for shoppers and their improving retail mix (due to more affordable rents than mall or high streets) boosting their appeal.

Of course, with July also being the height of the summer home improvement and barbecue season, the large number of DIY stores and supermarkets in such locations certainly drew shoppers in.

Last month overall, footfall dropped 1.1% compared to July 2016. On a three-month basis visitor traffic was down only 0.4% so July’s figures were bad news. And they were even worse news for shopping centres and malls where a footfall decline that had already persisted for three months turned into a four-moth run, this time falling 1.3%.

Surprisingly though, high streets did even worse. Consumers have turned back onto high streets in recent periods, especially after dark. But not in July as footfall dropped 2.1%. Springboard said post-5pm visits to stores are down and this clearly dented high streets last month.

Could it be that the trend of shopper spending more money on experiences than on products is running out of steam as inflation, fears over the economy and other issues weigh on consumers’ feelgood factor?

We won’t know the answer to that for a while yet. What we do know for now is that the performance across the UK was patchy, ranging from a 4.7% drop in the East Midlands when it comes to high streets only to a tiny rise to all three types of retail destination in the East and South East. They were the only two regions in positive territory overall last month and even Greater London was down (by 2.1%).

It seems that while the tourist boom may still be strong, it may also have been hurt by concerns about terrorist attacks this year, with the fact that local Greater London shoppers are struggling with inflation and general uncertainty as much as any other consumers also denting store visits.

So was there any good news? Well, spending on products for the home was buoyant but other than that it seems July was a month to make us all pause and wonder what the future might hold.

Springboard marketing and insights director Diana Wehrle think said: “July’s results might well mark a sea change in consumers’ willingness to spend, as it was the first time since January that footfall dropped during both retail trading hours and into the evening.

“Over the last few months the growing importance of the leisure-based trip has become a key part of the narrative when talking about retail destinations, but a 0.5% drop in footfall post-5pm in July is the first evidence of a tightening of purse strings on casual dining and leisure trips.

“These results together with the high level of consumer borrowing and an increase in the vacancy rate to 9.6% from 9.3% in April – the highest it’s been since July last year – suggest that trading conditions could be reaching a tipping point into a period of restraint.”

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