UK September footfall is weak again, slower e-sale growth points to very cautious consumers
UK stores footfall declined yet again last month with a 1.7% fall year-on-year, slightly worse than the 1.6% drop that had been seen in August.
Specialist tracker Springboard said that the fall was partly caused by the “unrelenting pressure on households’ budgets. With sluggish wage growth and inflation ticking upwards.” That means “it’s no surprise consumers are cautious about their discretionary spending.”
And of course, the mainly mild weather during September also made it challenging for stores to attract footfall, "shoppers having little need to update their wardrobes for the colder season ahead.”
Those factors meant that no UK region saw growth in September, and the East saw a very sharp decline of 5.3% from 1.7% in August. Welsh footfall also fell sharply by 5.5% on the previous year.
The slowdown was fairly evenly spread with all types of retail destination seeing weaker performances than of late. Retail parks for instance, may have been the only destinations to see growth, but a visitor traffic rise of 0.1% was little to boast about and was smaller than the 0.3% increase of the previous month.
Meanwhile high streets saw a 2.2% decline with all regions suffering, although Northern Ireland with a drop of over 6% and Wales at almost 8%, appeared to be struggling the most.
And shopping centres fared poorly too. These locations that are crucial for the fashion sector fell by 2.5%. That meant September was the 18th consecutive month of declining footfall to malls.
Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, said: “A drop in footfall of 1.7% in September - an even slightly greater rate of decline than August - provides further evidence of the current challenges facing bricks and mortar retail. However, whilst it would be easy to put this down to the shift to online spending, the story is not nearly as cut and dried.”
She highlighted the fact that non-food online sales growth in September of 5.4% was the lowest since January and just half what it was in September 2017, so there is clearly more going on than just a migration away from physical stores.
The slowdown, combined with the highest level of consumer credit for five years, higher inflation, falling new car sales and weaker house price rise, are “all indicators pointing to the fact that footfall is simply reflecting the underlying constraints on consumer spend generally.”
She also said that recent company failures could be making consumers cautious about committing to large purchases. We've heard a lot of news about unhappy House of Fraser customers who've been refused refunds or whose orders have been cancelled and such issues as this could be denting wider consumer enthusiasm for shopping.
And we can't ignore the fact that some consumers will be saving up for Christmas spending at the moment and reining-in their expenditure ahead of the big shopping season.
Meanwhile British retail Consortium Chief Executive Helen Dickinson added that these latest figures “are yet further demonstration of the increasingly difficult operating environment British retailers are facing. And yet, the country's largest private sector employer is not seeing any action from Government to help.”
She stressed the fact that the retail sector’s tax payments represent “5% of the economy, 10% of business tax and 25% of business rates” and added that “the system is skewed towards high taxes on people and property which is contributing to store closures and job losses, stalling the reinvention of our high streets.”
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