Footfall in the UK continued to decline in 2016, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
The BRC/Springboard Retail Footfall Monitor found that, in March, footfall was down 2.7 per cent compared with a year ago, which was lower than the 1.1 per cent fall in February.
Over a three-month period, footfall also declined by one per cent in March alone.
High-street footfall dropped by 3.9 per cent in March, lower than the 2.9 per cent decline in February. But in retail parks, footfall increased 1.6 per cent year on year, down from the 2.5 per cent rise in the previous month.
Shopping centre footfall also saw a decline, falling 3.7 per cent in March, a significant drop from the 0.6 per cent decline recorded in February.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The near four per cent decline in footfall on our high streets and in shopping centres is partially caused by the distortion of the timing of Easter. It is, however, also a continuation of a longer-term trend caused by ongoing structural change within the retail industry. Customers don’t differentiate between buying online, on a mobile device or in-store and often combine two or more different channels when they shop. Therefore, as well as their significant investment in digital, retailers know they also need to continually improve their physical stores to ensure an ever changing and more exciting shopping experience. The ongoing decline in levels of footfall highlights the significance of this structural change.
“We also know that declining footfall makes it harder to keep shops open and profitable. Areas that are already economically fragile are likely to see the greatest impact of future store closures. Retailers will have to look hard, too, at the effectiveness of their workforce and some of the people affected by changing roles will be those who find it most difficult to transition into new jobs that are created. The implications of all of this change will be uneven across different parts of the country, different parts of the retail workforce and different sizes of business.
“It would be beneficial for the Government to look at a number of recently introduced policies that are accelerating the pace of change. The industry stands ready to work with government to ensure these policies are implemented in a way that achieves government objectives while minimising the burden on retail businesses. On the current trajectory, these polices risk exacerbating the negative consequences on local communities and the most vulnerable in the workforce.”
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, a retail insights performance provider, said: “An early Easter is always a challenge for retail destinations as the bank holiday traditionally kick-starts demand for spring fashion and household purchasing. Adverse weather when new season stock comes in significantly impacts shopping trips. With a drop in footfall of 2.7 per cent, this is exactly what occurred this March. High streets and shopping centres were affected the most, and even the longstanding uplift in footfall on retail parks was dampened.
“The widespread coverage across the UK of storm Katie, and overall a cold March, meant that footfall dropped in all regions and nations, with a drop of more than two per cent in seven of the 10 different areas. The greater vulnerability of retailing compared with leisure and hospitality is highlighted by a drop in high street footfall of 4.3 per cent during retail trading hours compared with decrease of 2.5 per cent between 5pm and 8pm. On the plus side, Springboard’s data reveals that footfall was more resilient this March than in March 2013, when Easter also fell early and footfall dropped by 5.2 per cent, again due to severe weather conditions but also not helped by greater economic fragility.”