Retailers must create experiences to fight falling footfall

Footfall in February fell by half a per cent, which the BRC described as a “major decline”.

This was compared with a rate of one per cent seen in February 2017, according to the BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor. However, this was still higher than the three-month average of minus two per cent.

“Retailers are facing rapid structural change from digital evolution and rising operating costs,” said British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson (pictured). “We know that there will be fewer stores in the future, as portfolios are consolidated, so businesses and communities need to focus on repurposing physical space based on experience and refining the interplay with digital.

“For policymakers, meanwhile, it is about recognising and acting on the disproportionate impact these headwinds are having on vulnerable communities up and down the country.”

The figures also showed that half of UK regions saw growth in February, with the most notable being in Northern Ireland, which grew by 0.3 per cent, putting an end to eight months of consecutive declines.

The East Midlands grew by 2.1 per cent, up from the 2.2 per cent decrease seen in the previous month. The East also returned to growth with footfall increasing by 0.7 per cent.

Greater London and the South-East continued to see declines, falling 1.1 per cent and one per cent respectively.

Retail Parks outperformed all other shopping locations, with the West Midlands growing by 5.1 per cent, the South East by 4.8 per cent and the South-West up 2.6 per cent.

The high street saw growth in three regions, the East Midlands (4.8 per cent), Northern Ireland (1.9 per cent) and the East (1.8 per cent).

Shopping centres were the weakest performers of all three shopping destinations, with the West Midlands being the only region that recorded growth (0.7 per cent).

“Footfall continued to fall year on year in February across most retail destinations, even before the significant impact of the snow over the last two weeks,” commented Ms Dickinson. “This was mirrored in relatively flat consumer spending overall that continues to struggle against the current retail headwinds.

“Retail parks fared better, with footfall rising above the three-month average. These locations are typically home to furniture retailers, whose offer of credit options paid off by enticing shoppers and boosting sales.

“Looking ahead, there’s some hope that shopper activity will pick up, now that inflationary pressure has started to subside and wage growth is expected to move in the right direction. But this will offer only modest relief to retailers and consumers and the recent sad news announcing the closures of several well-known high-street retailers should sharpen our focus to what is going on in retail in the UK at present.”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, added: “Key to February’s result was an improvement in daytime footfall. Accounting for around two-thirds of total footfall, this dropped by just 0.6 per cent compared with a decline of 2.1 per cent in January. It demonstrates that consumers still have enthusiasm for making shopping trips, albeit they are cautious about spending, which is reflected in declining store sales in February.

“However, it is still tricky to get an accurate temperature reading of retail trading trends this year. The current raft of closures among retailers and hospitality operators are at least in part due to overly bullish budgeting over the period from 2015, before the pre-Brexit economic jitters; but clearly exacerbated by poorer than expected Christmas trading.”

She concluded: “The recent snow and an early Easter will impact footfall in March, and so April’s footfall will also be affected. A true like for like trading picture will therefore only be clear at the end of the second quarter meaning retailers will have to hold their breaths to know how 2018 is shaping up.”