Warmer weather tempts shoppers outside but footfall still down year-on-year

The recent “balmy” weather conditions have helped to tempt shoppers outside – but last month still saw the sharpest decline in people visiting stores in the month of February for five years – according to a report.

Footfall among shoppers fell by 2% year-on-year in February – the biggest fall for the month of February seen in five years, according to the BRC (British Retail Consortium)-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor.

The figure includes visits to high streets, retail parks and shopping centres and it marked the 15th month in a row of falls.

Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK to buck the trend, with five months of growth, including a 0.2% year-on-year increase in February.

In Scotland, footfall fell by 3.8% year-on-year, while in Wales it declined by 2.2%.

In England, the South West and the East were among the weakest performing regions, with declines of 3.5% and 3.4%, respectively, while London saw a 1.4% fall.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said February’s 2% decline in footfall happened despite the exceptionally warm weather.

She continued: “However, the record temperatures only occurred in the final week of the month, when footfall rose by 2.5% compared with drops in each of the preceding three weeks, averaging 3.6%.

“Indeed, the balmy conditions certainly helped high streets where footfall rose by 4.5% in the last week of the month compared with an average drop of 4.1% in the preceding three weeks.”

She said that, in what would seem “highly unlikely” for this time of year, footfall generally declined more modestly during the daytime in February than it did after 5pm.

Ms Wehrle continued: “To some degree this will have been a consequence of the cost of evening dining which typically is higher than lunch; but the warm weather during what was half-term week in many areas will have also increased the appeal of daytime trips for which evening trips will have been sacrificed.”

Across the UK, footfall on the high street declined by 1.9% annually – marking seven months in a row of weakening for this shopping location – although the West Midlands and Northern Ireland saw growth.

Meanwhile, footfall in retail parks declined by 0.8%, a sharp decline compared with last year when it grew by 1.4%. The East Midlands and Wales, however, saw “notable growth” in this shopping location in February.

And overall, shopping centre footfall declined by 3.4% year-on-year, a deeper decline than last year’s fall of 0.9%.

No nation or region experienced growth in this shopping location in February – and the East Midlands and Wales saw the deepest declines – both seeing annual falls of 5.9%.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Consumers have been cautious in their spending, leading to the biggest drop in February footfall for five years.

“These figures echo the month’s poor retail sales figures, which saw weak growth, particularly in bricks-and-mortar stores.

“While real incomes have been rising over the last year, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit appears to be driving a needs-not-wants approach.”