High Street footfall falls below 2009 recession levels, says BRC

New British Retail Consortium data has painted a picture of an “unprecedented” decline in High Street footfall with decline now sharper than the figures presented during the 2009 recession.

Last month footfall dropped 3.3%, falling further on the prior month’s 6% drop. This equated to a 4.8% fall in footfall over the two-months, something that the BRC says hasn’t been seen for some time.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s Marketing and Insights Director said of the data: “Much could be made of the adverse impact on April’s footfall of Easter shifting to March, but even looking at March and April together – so smoothing this out – still demonstrates that footfall has plummeted. A -3.3% drop in April, following on from -6% in March, resulted in an unprecedented drop of -4.8% over the two months. Not since the depths of recession in 2009, has footfall over March and April declined to such a degree, and even then the drop was less severe at -3.8%.”

Not a single UK region posted growth over the two months, though many regions did manage at least to slow their rate of decline. The least shallow rate of decline came in Wales (1.5%) and Greater London (2.4%), while Northern Ireland fell most sharply by 7.3% adding weight to a three month average of -2.9%.

Meanwhile, the national town centre vacancy rate rose from 8.9% in January to 9.2% by April end. Again, all regions saw an increase, barring Greater London where the vacancy rate improved, dropping from 5.6 to 3.6%.

As far as store openings go, 2017 saw the lowest rate in seven years at 4,083, with 5,55 closing. This meant a net decline of 1,772, according to local data company figures.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive at the British Retail Consortium added: “A wet start to April had a dampening effect on visits across the UK’s shopping locations adding to the long-term downward trend in footfall resulting from changing consumer behaviour. That shift in the way we shop, coupled with a highly challenging business environment, is having a significant impact on the nation’s high streets: in April nearly 1 in 10 shops in town centres was vacant.

“While these figures highlight the difficulties faced by retailers, they also point to the evolution of the industry. Retailers are embracing changing customer behaviour and adapting to a challenging environment by rebalancing investment in physical and digital infrastructure. Policy-makers can help support our industry and the re-making of our high streets by creating a progressive policy environment that allows retailers to adapt successfully.”