Footfall rises but online poaches sales

Although high street footfall was at its highest in May since 2013, the increase was down to people browsing in-store but buying online, says the BRC.

The BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor found that in May, high street footfall was up by 1.2 per cent, a significant improvement on the 4.7 per cent decline in April.

Despite this, data from its Retail Sales monitor has suggested that consumers are increasingly using stores to browse, research and spend time with the physical transactions that are being made later online.

British Retail Consortium (BRC) chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “With total footfall figures up and high streets seeing a reversal in fortunes, today’s figures offer some respite from the relentless downward trend we’ve seen building in recent months.

“However, we know from our recent data that it’s online, rather than stores, that has driven May’s sales upturn. Footfall up and store sales down gives credence to the trend of an increasing use of the high street for leisure activities and the researching of purchases made online either later or on the move through mobile devices.

“Retailers are working hard to respond to this fundamental structural change. They’re investing to ensure they’re meeting the needs of consumers who no longer think in channels and expect their shopping experience to be tailored to their specific needs and wants, whether in store or online. This investment, combined with the increasing cost of physical store space, means that retailers still find themselves in a relentless battle for every customer and every sale.”

Footfall in retail park locations improved 1.2 per cent year on year, also up on the 1.1 per cent increase in April. However, despite the monthly uplift, the growth rate has been on a downward trajectory since January.

Shopping centre footfall slumped 2.1 per cent in May, which was lower than the 0.7 drop in April. This is the second time this year that footfall in shopping centres has performed less well than the high street.

Overall footfall increased 0.3 per cent in May compared with a year ago. This was an improvement on the 2.4 per cent decline in April and a 1.7 per cent average drop over the past three months. This rise was attributed to the bank holiday weekend at the beginning of the month when a 4.7 per cent rise was recorded in the first week of the month.

Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle said: “May’s modest increase in UK footfall of 0.3 per cent, while in sharp contrast to the February to April footfall decline of 2.1 per cent, does not necessarily mark the start of a positive trend just yet.

“The figures show the month’s footfall increase emanated from a 4.7 per cent rise in the first week of the month, stimulated by the May bank holiday weekend. For the rest of the month, footfall dropped by an average of 1.1 per cent in the remaining three weeks. Even in retail parks, the destination type with the most consistent long-term increase in activity, footfall rose in the first two weeks of the month by an average of 2.9 per cent compared with a drop of 0.5 per cent over the second half. Our time-of-day data shows us that the “golden hours” of 5pm to 8pm are delivering the best footfall for UK high streets.

“This is only the 14th time over the past six years that footfall has risen, and over this period footfall increased in two consecutive months only twice. We would need to see at least a three-month increase in footfall to indicate the upward trend spells anything more than a break in the clouds.”