October’s footfall levels fell to their lowest rate since June last year, with a 2% year-on-year drop across the country.
The BRC Springboard footfall monitor showed the greatest decline was in Northern Ireland (down 6.5%), Scotland (down 3.3%) and the South West (down 3.1%). The East was the only region to show growth, up 1%, with October the 11th consectutive month of growth for the area.
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, highlighted a “black trading cloud” over the sector. “The signs of the gathering cloud have been evident in footfall trends for a while; with the rolling three-month average dropping to -1.4%, the lowest since June last year,” she said. “Both high streets and shopping centres are clearly under pressure, with footfall during retail trading hours dropping by more than -3% in each. And the fact that retail park footfall slipped into negative territory - even during daytime hours - whilst prior to November recording seven consecutive months of growth, is definitive evidence of consumers tightening their purse strings.”
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, commented: “All shopping destinations saw shopper footfall ease back in October, which mirrors the month’s paltry sales performance. Even retail parks, which have continually bucked the trend until now, struggled to attract as many visitors as the previous year.”
She also noted that the current vacancy rates may be set to improve over the Christmas period. “The picture improved slightly for town centre vacancies over the last quarter, but this is to be expected in the lead up to Christmas as landlords are inclined to offer more flexible short-term lets to prop up their rental income over the festive period. Yet nearly one in 10 retail premises still lies empty as the burden of business rates continues to stifle investment in new or refurbished stores in town centres and in less economically-viable locations.
“Without decisive action from the Chancellor in his upcoming Budget then retailers face a stark £270m leap in their rates bill from April; money which could otherwise be invested in stores and digital innovation. If reports over recent days of a potential cap on this increase come true, it would be a hugely welcome first step towards a reformed and more financially sustainable rates system over the years ahead.”