The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and retail intelligence specialists Springboard have released figures covering the five weeks 26th February – 1st April, showing retail footfall in March grew 1.3% on the previous year, the fastest growth since 2014.
The figure was above the three-month average of -0.2%, although March 2016 included Easter Sunday when many retailers were closed, while the 2017 figure does not and effectively adds one more day’s footfall to the period.
The high street saw the greatest percentage of footfall growth: 1.7%, followed by retail parks at 1.4% and shopping centres at 0.2%. The steepest decline in footfall occurred in Northern Ireland, which fell by 3.7%, followed by the South West at 2.3%.
“Shopper visits increased to all retail destinations in March, resulting in the fastest annual growth in footfall for three years,” commented Helen Dickinson, OBE, chief executive BRC. “This is partly owed to the exclusion of Easter Sunday from the period, which therefore benefits from an additional shopping day. But even looking beyond the distortion, the positive growth across most of the country is a reassuring sign for retailers.
“The high street continues to outperform shopping centres and retail parks, for the second consecutive month. Disappointingly though, this didn’t translate into retail sales, which were down in March on the previous year. Now that the Easter holidays have arrived, the challenge for retailers will be to attract this greater number of high street visitors into their stores.”
Diane Wehrle, Marketing and insights director, Springboard, added: “March definitely provided a break in the clouds, with the +1.3% rise in footfall breaking a six-month consecutive decline and the +0.2% increase in footfall in shopping centres being the first since January 2016. Whilst some of the +1.3% may have been a consequence of the loss of a trading day last year due to an early Easter, the impact of this shift should not be overstated as it will have been mitigated by increased trade on the other days over the Easter trading period.
“Indeed, if anything it is more evidence of the continuing structural shift in the use of retail destinations for leisure and hospitality trips. Virtually all of the increase in footfall in March was derived from the post 5pm period while footfall during the trading hours of 9am to 5pm dropped –by just -0.5% in high streets, but much more significantly, by -7.1%, in shopping centres. Indeed, the worsening of consumer confidence and inflation from last year is likely to be constraining shoppers’ willingness to spend on retail goods. This all lends further evidence to the fact that retail is no longer the sole driver of footfall, with a strong leisure/hospitality offer being a critical element to secure retail success.”