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BRC has released its Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor for February 2018, covering the four weeks 28 January to 24 February.

Year-on-year, Footfall in February decreased by 0.5%, a major decline compared to the rate of 1% seen for February 2017. This is better than the three-month average of -2.0% and the twelve-month average of -0.7%.

Half of the regions saw growth in February, the most notable being Northern Ireland which grew by 0.3%, ending eight months of consecutive decline. East Midlands grew by 2.1% up from the 2.2 per cent decrease in the previous month. The East returned to growth, footfall having increased by 0.7% in February.

The monitor showed that Greater London and the South East continue to experience decline of 1.1% and 1%, respectively, in February.

Retail Parks outperformed all other shopping locations: the West Midlands grew by 5.1%, South East by 4.8% and South West by 2.6%.

During the month, High Street showed growth for three regions: East Midlands (4.8%), Northern Ireland (1.9%) and the East (1.8%).

Shopping Centres were the weakest performing of all three shopping destinations, with the West Midlands being the only region that recorded growth (0.7%).

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief-Executive British Retail Consortium, said, “Footfall continued to fall year-on-year in February across most retail destinations, even before the significant impact of the snow over the last two weeks. This was mirrored in relatively flat consumer spending overall, that continues to struggle against the current retail headwinds.

“Retail parks fared better with footfall rising above the three-month average. These locations are typically home to furniture retailers whose offer of credit options paid off by enticing shoppers and boosting sales'

Dickinson continued, “Looking ahead, there’s some hope that shopper activity will pick-up now that inflationary pressure has started to subside and wage growth is expected to move in the right direction. But this will offer only modest relief to retailers and consumers and the recent sad news announcing the closures of several well-known high street retailers should sharpen our focus to what is going on in retail in the UK at present.

“Retailers are facing into rapid structural change from digital evolution and rising operating costs. We know that there will be fewer stores in the future as portfolios are consolidated, so businesses and communities need to focus on repurposing physical space based on experience and refining the interplay with digital. For policymakers meanwhile, it is about recognising and acting on the disproportionate impact these headwinds are having on vulnerable communities up and down the country.”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, said, 'The -0.5% drop in footfall in February was less than a third of that recorded in January and lower that the 12 month average of -0.7%, providing some good news in the face of the trading challenges for retailers reported recently.

'The other good news was that the -0.9% drop in shopping centre footfall was better than the past five months, and could finally be a sign of the positive impact of investment by centre owners over the past few years.

'Key to February’s result was an improvement in day time footfall. Accounting for around two-thirds of total footfall, this dropped by just -0.6% compared with -2.1% in January. It demonstrates that consumers still have enthusiasm for making shopping trips, albeit they are cautious about spending, which is reflected in declining store sales in February.'

Wehrle added, 'However, it is still tricky to get an accurate temperature reading of retail trading trends this year. The current raft of closures amongst retailers and hospitality operators are at least in part due to overly bullish budgeting over the period from 2015, before the pre-Brexit economic jitters; but clearly exacerbated by poorer than expected Christmas trading.

'The recent snow and an early Easter will impact footfall in March, and so April’s footfall will also be affected. A true like for like trading picture will therefore only be clear at the end of the second quarter meaning retailers will have to hold their breaths to know how 2018 is shaping up.'

(source: BRC, image: pixabay)