Retailers see another “disappointing” month of low footfall

Despite a slight uptick over the previous month’s numbers, high street footfall figures in May were still lower compared with this time last year.

Year-on-year, footfall is down by 3.6% compared to last year’s figures for the same month. This varies slightly depending on retail locations, with high street retailers seeing a reduction of 2.7%, retail park shops seeing a decline of 2.3%, and shopping centres being hardest hit, with a 4.5% drop in footfall.

Although all regions saw reduced footfall year-on-year, there was some disparity in the results from each of the UK’s countries. Northern Ireland saw the least significant impact, with a 3% reduction. This was followed by England, which is down by 3.4%, and Wales, which is down by 5%. Scotland was the hardest-hit country, reportedly experiencing a reduction of 5.4% in footfall.

These figures come from the British Retail Consortium, (BRC), which has just released its footfall monitor results for May 2024. Offering potential reasons for the reduction, the BRC says it believes train strikes likely played a part, as they may have impacted shoppers’ ability to visit retail locations.

In addition, the BRC pointed out that May 2023 saw good weather and three bank holidays – including one for the King’s coronation – compared to May 2024 only having two bank holidays and the country experiencing comparatively poorer weather.

Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association, called the figures “very disappointing”, and said they highlight the challenges currently faced by independent retailers.

However, despite the poor year-on-year results, there was a silver lining for retailers, as footfall was actually 3.6% higher on average than April’s figures. Footfall dropped sharply by 7% last month, which Goodacre said showed “worrying signs” for retailers. The BRC said that this month’s increase may: “suggest changing fortunes which retailers hope will continue into the summer months”.

Helen Dickinson OBE, BRC’s chief executive, said that: “Retailers will be hopeful that a warm summer, coupled with events such as the European Championships and Olympics, will boost footfall across all major shopping destinations across the UK.”

Both Goodacre and Dickinson commented that improving the UK’s footfall rates should be a priority for the politicians, especially with July’s general election looming.

 “It’s crucial for the new government to understand the importance of supporting local businesses to ensure the vitality of our high streets and shopping centers,” Goodacre said.

He added: “The upcoming election represents a critical juncture for the retail community. Bira urges all political candidates to consider robust measures that will boost consumer confidence and stimulate retail activity. This includes potential fiscal incentives, marketing campaigns to promote local shopping, and broader economic policies that enhance disposable income and spending power among consumers.”

Similarly, Dickinson commented: “Political parties have a role to play too by having policies that mean retailers can invest in rejuvenating shopping destinations across the UK.

“A broken business rates system and outdated planning laws are holding back the industry – politicians of all stripes must address these issues. This will boost economic growth, lift consumer spirits, and help drive more shoppers back to our high streets and other retail destinations.”

In related news, kbbreview recently asked leading figures from the KBB industry what they would put in their manifesto to help businesses if they were running for prime minister.

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