March and Q1 footfall was weak in the UK says Ipsos Retail Performance
The prospects for the UK retail sector remain both patchy and confusing as a new report from Ipsos Retail Performance on Friday showed poor footfall during March, despite a tracker released earlier in the day suggesting footfall actually rose during the month.
The first tracker, from accountancy firm BDO had included figures from Springboard that said footfall rose 5.2% even though BDO said this did not translate into higher sales at the tills. But the second tracker, the Retail Traffic Index (RTI) from Ipsos Retail Performance, showed footfall dropping.
The researcher, with data derived from the number of individual shoppers entering over 4,000 non-food retail stores across the UK, said store visits for March were down 7.9% compared to last year, when Easter was earlier.
The most dramatic declines were seen in Northern England (-12.5%) and South West England & Wales (-11.2%), both for March, and for the quarter to March. Across the UK as a whole, footfall for the first three months of the year was down -5.4% on 2016, with every region suffering a drop and even London and the South East not immune to consumers’ unwillingness to go shopping.
Dr Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance, said of the figures: “There is little doubt the first quarter of 2017 has been tough for non-food retailers as sales in January and February failed to hit last year’s levels. March also looked weak and follows on the back of a painfully quiet February.”
But he said there could be some upside in the Easter calendar shift. “The figure is masked by the fact that Easter, traditionally a busy period, fell in March last year,” he explained. “We won’t really be in a position to assess the underlying state of retail activity until the end of April, when the calendar of events has been reconciled.”
Was there any other positive news? The month-on-month figures showed a 3.2% growth in average weekly footfall between February and March with tourist flows helping footfall and a population that is growing at 0.7% each year also helping to sustain retail stores.
But while April could deliver better news, Dr Dension cautioned that official data showed the strong end to last year “was fuelled by consumers living beyond their means, using savings and credit to fund purchases.” He said the Q1 downturn “might reflect changing sentiments that this spending is not sustainable. If real disposable incomes continue to fall, and there is every indication this will be the case, then the engine of the economy will be put under strain.”
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