Greater numbers of consumers flocking to high street shops outside of London has sparked hopes of a retail revival.
According to new figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), year-on-year footfall between 28 January and 24 February decreased by 0.5 per cent.
Although this is down on the rate of one per cent seen in February 2017, it is an improvement on the 1.6 per cent decline in footfall recorded in January this year.
It is also better than the three-month average of -2 per cent and the twelve-month average of -0.7 per cent.
The report found that half of the regions saw growth in February, most notably Northern Ireland which grew by 0.3 per cent, ending 8 months of consecutive decline. The East Midlands grew by 2.1 per cent up from the 2.2 per cent decrease in the previous month. The East also bounced back with footfall rising by 0.7 per cent.
Greater London and the South East, however, continued to experience decline of 1.1 per cent and 1 per cent respectively.
The high street played a major part in the success of the regions. East Midlands high street footfall raced 4.8 per cent higher, Northern Ireland increased by 1.9 per cent and the East was 1.8 per cent higher.
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The report found that retail parks, helped by furniture retailers offering credit options, outperformed all other shopping locations particularly in the West Midlands where footfall rose by 5.1 per cent. Shopping centres were the weakest performing destination, down 0.9 per cent, with only the West Midlands experiencing growth of 0.7 per cent.
“The February footfall figures provide some good news in the face of the trading challenges for retailers reported recently,” said Diane Wehrle, a director at Springboard, which collaborates with BRC to produce the statistics.
“Even the drop in shopping centre footfall was better than the past five months and could finally be a sign of the positive impact of investment by centre owners over the past few years.”
She said key to February’s result was an improvement in day time footfall. Accounting for around two-thirds of total footfall, this dropped by just -0.6 per cent compared with -2.1 per cent in January.
“It demonstrates that consumers still have enthusiasm for making shopping trips, albeit they are cautious about spending, which is reflected in declining store sales in February,” she added.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, was more cautious. “Footfall continued to fall year-on-year even before the significant impact of snow over the last 2 weeks,” she said.
“This was mirrored in relatively flat consumer spending overall, that continues to struggle against the current retail headwinds.”
“Looking ahead, there’s some hope that shopper activity will pick-up now that inflationary pressure has started to subside, and wage growth is expected to move in the right direction. But this will offer only modest relief to retailers and consumers and the recent sad news announcing the closures of several well-known high street retailers should sharpen our focus to what is going on in retail in the UK at present.”
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