UK high streets quiet again, Brit shoppers become nighthawks

Weston-s-Mare High Street

Weston-Super-Mare, UK, 10950s. Picture courtesy Macfisheries

How did UK retail footfall fare in February? Hard to tell! The latest figures appear to show a clear cut trend but scratch the surface and you can see all sorts of movements developing with UK consumers turning into after-dark shoppers.

So, let’s go for face value first: The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard said today that visitor traffic fell 1.1% across the country last month. Easy, right?

Well, that figure masks the true picture, which was one of greater strength down south compared with weaker footfall in the north of the country. Scotland and Norther Ireland suffered big declines (3.1% and 5.1%, respectively, presumably affected by winter weather). Moving slightly further south, Yorkshire was down 1.8%. But Greater London and the southwest were up 0.2% and 0.4%, respectively. Not brilliant, yet still a rise.

But where were people actually shopping and when? For a start, high streets fell 2.9% overall while retail parks rose 2.5%, aided by strength in interiors-related sales. And more shoppers headed to out-of-town shopping centres and retail parks in the early evening. Daytime shopping activity was down a full 3.9% in February while early evening activity up 0.2%.

And of course, we mustn’t forget online. Last week, BRC said e-sales of non-food products rose 10.7% in February. It was the slowest rise since last October and likely reflected the fact that people were tightening their belts last month. But it still added to the weight of online vs on-store shopping. In February 2016, online sales represented 20.4% of total non-food sales, against 18.9% in February 2015.

But shopping sentiment in stores does seem to be picking up. The BRC said today that while footfall dropped last week, it was high streets that suffered and visitors to shopping centres and retail parks rose. I’ll be interested to see how the past weekend went. The sun shone, the temperatures edged up a little above 10 degrees and maybe, just maybe, people started to feel a bit better about buying spring fashion.



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