UK footfall decline slows, but no good news for fashion
May looks like it was something of a contradiction for UK retail. On Friday we learned from the latest BDO report that sales fell quite sharply due to warm weather. But on Monday, specialist footfall tracker Springboard said it was “a great month for sales” and footfall partially recovered… because of, well, warm weather again.
So what’s going on? In fact, Springboard’s report doesn’t contradict BDO, it just highlights the nuances of retail in 2018.
The company said that in the four week up to May 26, footfall actually dropped 0.4% year-on-year, which is good news in one way as that's an improvement compared to March when it was down 6% and April when it fell 3.3%.
And that comment about it being a great month for sales? Well, springboard said that in-store sales showed growth for the first time in two years, which probably qualifies for the description “great” in today's difficult environment.
But we can't ignore that overall slight dip in footfall during the month, nor the fact that shopping centres suffered disproportionately. In fact, retail parks saw growth of 0.5% and high streets 0.6%. But that left shopping centres down 2.9%.
And only three regions saw footfall grow in May: North & Yorkshire (0.7%), Northern Ireland (0.5%) and Wales (0.6%). The biggest decline was in Greater London (1.5%), although at least all regions managed to improve on last month.
What did the analysts at Springboard have to say about this? Diane Wehrle, its Marketing and Insights Director said it “would be highly premature” to regard the ‘improvement’ in UK footfall to -0.4% as any form of bounce-back. She said part of it would have been because the shopping trips were delayed from April and it was also a consequence of the two public holidays, one in early and one in late May.
But the reality of the situation is that visitor traffic actually declined in both bank holiday weeks, “reflecting a long-term trend identified by Springboard of the lessening in importance of public holidays for retail.”
Wehrle also highlighted the fact that with footfall post-5pm continuing to outperform activity during retail trading hours, the overriding characteristic of customer behaviour was (and remains) firmly one of “experience over product”.
In May, footfall between 9am and 5pm declined by 1.2% while rising by 2% post-5pm. And the variance between the two parts of the day was most significant in shopping centres where daytime footfall dropped by 3.6% compared with a rise of 0.4% post-5pm.
Springboard said that although the post-5pm period is still less significant in terms of the volume of activity, the ongoing drop in daytime footfall “means that the number of customers visiting bricks and mortar stores will continue to diminish, leaving the onus on retailers to better exploit a reduced store customer base in order to drive sales growth.”
That's bad news for the fashion sector, especially as shopping centres are where many fashion shops are concentrated. But the advice to focus on experiences as much as products is certainly sound and in its release, Springboard highlighted just one example of how such a focus is paying off.
Landlord Cadogan Estates, which owns large parts of Chelsea in London, works with the Royal horticultural society for the annual Chelsea in Bloom floral art event. And Cadogan’s Hugh Seaborn said that the event has a “significant impact for our retailers as it creates a second annual footfall peak aside from Christmas. Last year footfall rose by 25.6% compared to surrounding weeks, and this year it increased by 30.1%. Creating the right experience has never been more essential.”
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