UK footfall down again but which destinations rose?


Bluewater, Kent

If you thought I was done with all those Christmas shopping reports, think again. My readers don’t escape that easily. The reason? The latest report from Springboard about shopper footfall during December.

You see it’s not only sales that count – actual shopping trips are key to the health of the retail sector and give strong clues about what’s happening out there. So what was the Christmas story? A fall of 2.2%, it seems.

Shoppers weren’t very interested in visiting high streets last month but they still embraced the out-of-town retail park concept. High street footfall fell 4% year-on-year and even covered shopping centres (which you’d expect to be more attractive in a dismally rainy month) fell 2%. Or perhaps that’s not as surprising as it seems – stories like the one that saw shoppers queueing in their cars for four hours to leave Bluewater may have made some think twice about venturing out again.

It was the ninth consecutive month in which footfall dropped and it fell at a faster rate in December than the three-month average. Ouch!

So why did retail parks, which rose 2.1%, do better? Analysts think the free parking issue is key. While some shopping centres (such as the aforementioned Bluewater) also offer free (and abundant) parking, many of them are in town centres so have the same problems that high streets have as far as access is concerned.

Retail parks with their mix of stores, plenty of parking, add-on facilities like restaurants and cinemas, and click & collect convenience, seem to have so much going for them at the moment.

As Springboard’s Diana Wehrle said, their footfall volumes may be far lower than in either high streets or shopping centres, but “in concert with online, they clearly represent an increasingly strong draw for shoppers.”

One thing I would say though is that the traditional division of physical retail into high street, shopping centre and retail park doesn’t give us the complete picture. It seems to me that certain large out-of-town shopping centres have more in common with retail parks than they do with some other shopping centres. Measuring visitor traffic that way could give an even more accurate picture. Just a suggestion…

Nugent Shopping park Orpington

Nugent Shopping Park, Oprington

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