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Hot weather slows decline in town centre footfall

The hottest spring weather for 20 years enticed people back on to the high streets in May with a softening in annual footfall decline, according to the National High Street Index from data tracker Springboard.

The Index, which monitors more than 85 towns and cities in the UK, saw a -1.5% year-on-year decline, compared to a -3.2% drop in May last year and -4.3% in May 2009. Coastal towns around the UK fared especially well, as the good weather and two successive bank holiday weekends brought shoppers out in droves with a +2.6% increase on the previous year.

Diane Wehrle, research director at Springboard, said the data suggests that footfall decline has bottomed out. “The high street has lost so many shoppers that it is now down to the core.”

However, she added that the increased footfall had not led to an increase in sales as consumer confidence remained low. “The good weather does bring people out but they are not spending. For most people, heading to a town centre can be quite a cost-effective day out as they can get the experience of shopping but don’t have to actually spend anything.”

Figures released by the British Retail Consortium yesterday (June 7) saw that UK like-for-like sales values across all sectors fell by 2.1% in May following a strong April, buoyed by a late Easter and the extra bank holiday. The Index showed a -5.4% footfall decline compared to April.

The High Street Index also revealed that areas of the UK with a high proportion of public sector employment are experiencing an increased decline; Wales and the East of England for example, saw a -11.3% and -9.4% respective drop year-on-year.

Wehrle said: “High streets in areas with a high proportion of public sector employment are suffering, as there is a huge lack of consumer confidence. However there are actually many areas of the UK which are waving the flag for the British high street such as the South-West of England and Scotland. After a turbulent start to the year, Scotland is experiencing a resurgence in consumer confidence following the elections leading to a +1.6% year-on-year increase in footfall throughout May.”

She added that many town centres need to do more to encourage their core shoppers to spend more. “Retailers need to work closely with their town centre managers to promote their local areas as a whole. They need to find out who their core shoppers are and do more to appeal to those people and made easier for them to spend there.”

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