UK shoppers walk away from stores, footfall down, fashion was May's big loser
The UK’s recent return to footfall growth went into reverse last month as cautious shoppers stayed away from physical stores in greater numbers and fashion shops suffered the most. And hopes are low for June too after the shock general election result, despite this month getting a warmer weather boost.
Figures from specialist tracker Springboard and the BRC showed footfall in May fell 1% year-on-year, the first decline since February, with even the buoyant Greater London region seeing footfall dropping. High Street footfall, which had been a shining light in the UK retail sector, declined in May, with the fall of 2% its steepest decline since June last year.
There was good news for retail park destinations as they grew by 1.5%, perhaps on the back of a more interesting product mix away from the DIY stores that once dominated this category. But that was below the three-month average growth rate of 1.8 per cent.
But the worst news was that shopping centre footfall dropped by 1.3% in May, well below the three-month average of a 0.5% fall. Shopping centres contain the greatest concentration of fashion stores and have been battling the migration online for some time.
Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, said: “May was clearly a month of moderation for UK shoppers.”
And that moderation stretched to post-5pm footfall, which had been one of the strongest time periods in recent months. It was still up in May, but by only 1.1% compared to 3.5% a year ago.
Wehrle added: “The slowing of growth suggests fewer shoppers opted to stay longer and eat out after their shopping trips, a concern for retail locations that have focused on expanding their food offer to grow shopper dwell time.”
The drop in footfall was mirrored by a drop of 3.7% in UK sales as measured by Springboard's sales index, which tracks turnover in bricks and mortar stores – with fashion spend in particular dipping in May, a clear signal that consumers have started to display greater spending restraint.
“While May’s footfall decline didn’t show a dramatic drop overall, the result for high streets was the worst result since June 2016 when high street footfall declined by 3.7% in the wake of the EU Referendum,” Wehrle said.
But with that referendum result in mind, could May’s figure shave been affected by one-offs too, rather than being a sign of a long-term slowdown? Perhaps. Springboard said April's results had been boosted by the shift in Easter from March in 2016 to April this year, “so it is unsurprising that there was a downward shift in footfall from last month, particularly as UK consumers could [have felt] additionally cautious in the lead up to the general election.”
Additionally, British Retail Consortium CEO Helen Dickinson added that wet weather in May “kept people indoors and made it a poor month for footfall in general with fewer people out and about.”
But while that suggests the warmer temperatures being seen this month could send the trend graph back upwards, there are other factors that might impact June footfall and spending. The surprise general election result that saw the UK with a hung Parliament is likely to exacerbate consumer uncertainty over the future. And a trend in which spending post-election/referendum tends to fall, bodes ill for this month’s figures.
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