January footfall: Cheers all round for UK high streets?

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UK shoppers January 2016

OK, first question: Did UK shoppers hit the stores in January? Yes! That was the resounding answer from the latest footfall stats released today by the British Retail Consortium and Springboard.

In fact, footfall rose 1.2% year-on-year. It may be a small number in universal terms but in terms of store footfall it was big… no, huge. You see it came after a 2.2% decline in December and was the best rise since January 2014 (excluding the distortions caused by Easter). Cue party poppers…

Now for the second question: Did the high street benefit? Yes again. That’s really good news too given that the long-term trend for UK high streets seems to have been one of a steady drop-off of visitor traffic.

Today’s figures show that high street footfall rose for the first time since July 2013. Ok, it was only up 0.2% but, hey, that’s better than a string of declines and way better than December’s 4% fall.

Meanwhile footfall to retail parks continued a string of gains and rose 5.2% year-on-year for a two-year best. And while shopping centres were flat, it was better than they’ve done for a while.

In fact, overall, January was the first month since December 2011 when none of the sectors covered fell.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: “The increase… alongside the rise in spending in January, finally demonstrates what is well known – that bricks and mortar shopping environments are still important to consumers.”

Shopping after-dark

What was particularly interesting was the fact that Springboard also said tracking footfall across 450 individual locations since 2009 has shown that it’s the post-5pm period that has been most resilient.

Partly that’s a reflection of the move to convenience store shopping. Millennials aren’t doing a giant weekly shop but are picking up what they need, when they need it on their way home from work.

But it also reflects a sea change in the way we shop more generally. Many high streets may seem like dead zones (apart from convenience stores and takeaway restaurants) after 5:30. But more and more shoppers think nothing of jumping into the car while the dinner’s cooking for a quick trip to the local retail park to pick up a pair of jeans, a sofa or a birthday present.

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