The number of shoppers visiting high streets, retail parks and shopping centres has, according to a new study by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Springboard data company, fallen by 10% over the last seven years.
Retail sales figures for September, which were splashed across the press with gloomy consistency, show that retail footfall dropped 1.7% compared with September 2018, and fell 1.6% on a three-month basis.
The report says the biggest impact was felt by shopping centres, which saw 3.2% fewer visitors through their doors than the previous September. High streets experienced a 1.8% drop while retail parks bucked the general trend with an increase in footfall of 0.1%.
While there’s no denying the drop in footfall on the high street, it’s not the whole picture.
Retail consultant Michael Weedon, managing director of exp2 Ltd, told Stationery Matters: “The loss of footfall tells a tale of our changing shopping habits. While 10% fewer feet have fallen in seven years, there are actually 5% more feet in the UK as the population has grown.
“High streets, oddly, have not shown much change in shop vacancy over this period. The main pain has been felt by shopping centres. Even retail parks, which have gained footfall in step with population growth, have seen a sharper upturn in empty units than high streets.
“For all of these location types the big challenge is to be the most attractive place for we consumers to spend our time.”
So why are the high streets and shopping centres feeling the pain so acutely?
In response to September’s figures, The Guardian suggested consumers are preferring to use the internet for shopping, and said “the rising costs of running physical stores, including rent, wages and business rates puts additional pressure” on retailers.
Analysing the seven-year trend of a 10% drop in high-street footfall, Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the BRC, said that Brexit uncertainty has played a significant role in these figures.
Dickinson said: “With the spectre of a no-deal weighing increasingly on consumer purchasing decisions, it is no surprise that sales growth has once again fallen into the red. Many consumers held off from non-essential purchases, or shopped around for the bigger discounts.”