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Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at footfall data firm Springboard
The Easter bank holiday weekend, forecast to provide a much-needed boost to the UK retail sector as a whole, ended with a disappointing 6.4% decline in footfall against Easter 2013.
With key economic indicators more favourable than for some time - rising house prices, consumer confidence and salaries, falling unemployment and inflation, and interest rates stable and low - all evidence pointed towards a positive Easter. All of these factors have been reflected in growth in the economy over each of the last five quarters - indeed, economic growth is now just 0.6% below the peak recorded in 2008.
In conjunction, the mild weather in the weeks preceding Easter, which according to 60% of retailers we surveyed had spurred shoppers to invest in their spring/summer wardrobes, continued over the bank holiday weekend and should have supported our retailers.
However, unlike previous years, positive economic indicators didn’t readily translate to increased footfall over Easter. While retail spending has led us out of previous recessions, this time it seems there is a structural shift in consumer behaviour, with people
being reluctant to resume their pre-recession shopping habits. Despite a steady increase in GDP, with the economy being
3.1% bigger in the last quarter than a year ago, footfall has decreased in four of the last five quarters with a drop of 1.1% from the first quarter in 2013.
Inevitably the growth in internet shopping is cited as the main reason for the decline in footfall, and of course it has had a degree of impact on how we shop, work and interact with the space around us. However, nearly 90% of retail spend is still made in our retail locations and, positively for bricks-and-mortar retailing, people do not shop wholly on the internet, whether they choose to browse online and use click-and-collect services, or showroom in store and order online. Indeed, it is these shifts in behaviour that make measuring footfall ever more important in order to understand the impact on retail locations.
Ultimately, the internet may have a positive effect on retailing as it generates consumer choice and gives retailers greater
flexibility in offer and the ability to deliver it speedily. Gone are the days of losing valuable floor space to huge stock levels; today it is all about choice, fulfilment and experience.
Forecasts are completed by using historic trends and current indicators. American economist Edgar Fiedler said “if you have to forecast, forecast often”, and this advice should be heeded while we embark on this new era in retail.