BRC: footfall declines but shoppers still spending

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The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has released its latest footfall figures for the UK, with numbers in decline but shopper spend holding up.

Footfall in September was 0.9% down on a year ago, a return to the decline in footfall seen before the 0.1% rise in August. On a three-month basis, footfall declined 0.4%.

High street footfall fell after two months of growth, down 0.5% in September, after of the 1.1% rise in August. This is below the 3-month average of 0.2% and is the fifth month high street footfall has fallen this year.

Footfall in retail park locations was broadly flat in September, with footfall in Shopping Centres falling 2.5%.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE said: “Total footfall was fractionally down this month with almost 1% fewer people heading out to shopping locations across the UK. While in itself this isn’t the news retailers would hope for, taken with other retail industry data published this month it tells a fascinating story.

“At the same time as both footfall and shop prices have fallen year-on-year, retail spending grew in September by 1.3%. This is a function of the changing face of retail and the hard work and innovation of British retail businesses who are responding brilliantly to technological advances and changing consumer habits.”

Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle added: “The headline result for the UK shows a slight worsening of footfall in September from August, but does not reveal the underlying trend that shopping centres are losing shopper numbers at a faster rate than high streets. Whilst the very warm and sunny weather will have drawn consumers to high streets in September, resulting in a greater drop in shopping centre footfall of 2.5%, this is not just a one off result as shopping centre footfall has dropped by 1.8% for the year to date compared with -1.4% in high streets and a rise of 1.2% in retail parks. The issue for shopping centres could be that many have lacked the investment required to maintain their appeal for shoppers whose standards and expectations have risen.

shoppers“The other trend is the rate of increase in footfall in retail parks is diminishing, with a decline in three months of this year and a lower average increase for the year to date of 1.2% compared with 2.2% last year. Changes in their offer including family friendly restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, and cinemas heightened the attractiveness of these locations to shoppers and led to an uplift in footfall. Inevitably this rate of increase slows.

“Moving forward into what should be the most lucrative trading period of the year, despite the challenges of a weaker pound and living wage costs, it is critical that staffing remains strong to deliver the level of customer service required to ensure retail destinations offer a quality customer experience.”

Close Brothers Retail Finance managing director Alex Marsh commented on the latest footfall figures.

“Today’s figures showing footfall on the high street has slumped may worry many retailers, who are already concerned with the long-term impact that Brexit may have on consumer confidence,” he said. “Positively though, UK retail spending grew last month and it appears consumers have not been put off buying big ticket items. Our data shows a 4% growth since last month in the average big ticket item spend, indicating consumers are not holding back.

“However, high street retailers need to make sure they are in a position to weather any future knock in consumer confidence. Retailers need to offer the right finance options to their customers in order to make products more affordable and accessible whilst ensuring responsible lending possibly through fixed term lending rather than credit cards.”

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