Footfall fell -2% during October – its lowest rate since the Brexit vote in June of last year – prompting the CEO of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) to call for “decisive action” from the Chancellor on business rates in his forthcoming budget.
According to the latest BRC – Springboard Footfall & Vacancies figures, footfall was down -1.4% on a three-month rolling average and -0.5% on a 12-month rolling average.
Only the East region showed a growth in footfall of 1%, which was its 11th consecutive month of growth. The East Midlands High Street footfall, saw less of a decline than the previous month, down -1.5%, compared to -2.8%; its eighth month of consecutive decline.
The East and Wales were the only regions to show growth on the High Street of 1.4% and 0.6%, respectively while Retail Parks continue to appeal to shoppers in the East and South East, which were the only regions to show positive growth for this retail destination.
Shopping Centres, however, saw a significant overall decline from -1.0% to -3.0%, Greater London being the only region to see positive growth (0.2%).
On a regional basis the sharpest decline in footfall in October occurred in Northern Ireland (-6.5%), Scotland (-3.3%) and South West (-3.1%). Footfall in Greater London declined to -1.3% from -0.9% in September.
BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said the easing off in footfall mirrored “the month’s paltry sales performance” and pointed out that the normally robust retail parks were struggling to attract more visitors than the prior year.
She added that vacancy rates on the high streets had improved slightly but this was to be expected as landlords offered short-term lets to boost their rental incoming in the lead-up to the festive season. “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,” Dickinson said.
“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.”
Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle said the figures delivered a”black cloud ahead of the Christmas sales storm“. “[…] not only was the -2% drop in footfall the worst result for October since 2013 when it declined by -2.9%, but it was also higher than the result for the month of October in subsequent years which ranged between -0.8% and -0.2%,” she explained.
“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. 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,” Wehrle added.
Wehrle predicted that landlords would continue to offer flexible and short-term lets into the new year and said that a mooted two further interest rate rises, coupled with these latest figures “suggest that Black Friday, and the subsequent Christmas sales storm, will be typified by consumers battening down the hatches“.