Update! Easter retail footfall: Wet, wet, wet

liberty umbrellas

Liberty, Great Marlborough Street

Weather forecasters can get it wrong. Retail forecasters can get it even more wrong. They predicted an uptick in retail footfall this Easter weekend but what we got was a drop. Not that either can be blamed as forecasting (speaking as a trend forecaster) isn’t an exact science. That’s very true when it comes to predicting retail footfall. So what went wrong this time?

Well, it’s probably unfair to pick on Springboard for getting it wrong when it predicted a 1.3% rise in visitor traffic to stores in the UK this long Easter weekend. The footfall specialist is usually a pretty good barometer of retail sentiment.

Its 1.3% prediction was on the back of a weather forecast suggesting four days of rain and compared to a 2% rise a year ago. Overall, it expected high streets to suffer on a wet Saturday but to benefit from post-5pm shopping on Monday (as they did last year). Covered shopping centres were meant to benefit overall from consumers looking to stay dry while they shopped.

In fact, the weather made the four-day weekend something of a news story and retail footfall fell 1.9% overall with high streets down a hefty 4.9%, and shopping centres and retail parks up a respectable 2.5% and a weak 0.4%, respectively.

So what happened? We got one day of unexpected sunshine and three of driving rain plus the gale-force winds of Storm Katie mixed-in. The result? On sunny Good Friday, shopper numbers rose 9.2% at shopping centres but it all went south on soggy Saturday with an 11.5% high street drop and overall retail footfall down by 6.4%.

debenhams wet weather clothing

Debenhams, Oxford Street

Easter weekend is usually the first big guaranteed shopping period post-Christmas. But while Friday proved strong, visits to shopping centres, retail parks and high streets dropped 6% and 10.5%, respectively on Saturday and Monday compared to last Easter. The public holiday on Easter Monday is usually the biggest shopping day of the long weekend but footfall in shopping centres was down 16% on Monday morning alone and it dropped 11.5% on high streets. And that was even with some shoppers heading to DIY stores so they could mend their battered fences, greenhouses and the like on Monday.Footfall figures declined on the high street by 9.9% on Easter Sunday

Storms aside, Springboard said the timing of Easter (which this year came at the start of the school holidays rather than nearer the end) and its location in the budgetary cycle will have hit fashion retailers quite hard too. I doubt many people were rushing to buy spring and summer clothing and accessories given the weather at the weekend.

OK, it’s not always that easy to compare the prediction vs reality figures as we don’t yet have an overall number for the four-day weekend. And it’s equally hard to compare them year-on-year as Easter was later (and therefore marginally more spring-like) in 2015. But you get the point. This Easter was a physical store shopping washout.

retail store umbrellas

Umbrellas at the ready

So did we all go online instead? Yes and no. There wasn’t exactly a double-digit surge but Springboard quoted e-commerce data experts PCA Predict’s online tracker, Big Data Labs, e-commerce transactions were up 7% over Easter weekend. Online may not have been spectacular on sunny Friday but e-transactions increased on Saturday, Sunday and Monday by 9%, 12% and 10%, respectively.

The weekend, and in particular Easter Sunday is typically one of the lowest-performing periods for online transactions across the whole year, apparently.

So overall it was a tough holiday. Coming after a tough start to the spring retail seasons, it doesn’t bod well for profits further down the line. Who’d be a retailer, eh?

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