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How Does Weather Affect Footfall?

High levels of snowfall and cold temperatures last month emphasised further the short-term threats to bricks-and-mortar stores that can sit alongside the wider long-term decline. Here, Dr Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence, explains the significance of the ‘Beast from the East’ and what retailers can do to counter this.

The recent collapse of former retailers Maplin and Toys ‘R’ Us alongside reports of falling profits for many other high street chains, including Carpetright, Moss Bros and John Lewis, highlighted the current vulnerability of the UK high street.

Anxiety grew further in the retail sector with the period of Siberian cold. The UK has one of the most changeable daily weather patterns in the world, making it a ready topic of everyday conversation. According to our friends at Planalytics, the weather is significantly different from one year to the next on 75% of days – and retailers are quick to call on the weather to explain away periods of abnormal store trading.

But how much do periods of extreme weather, whether it’s precipitation, temperature or wind, impact the high street? This month’s cold snap gave a perfect opportunity to explore this further with the heavy snowfall, and the results were drastic.

To what extent does footfall suffer in cold weather?

Our figures showed that, across the country, footfall in non-food stores was down more than -30% between Tuesday 27th February and Thursday 1st March, when compared to the same period in 2017.

Regionally, this was as high as a 54% downturn in footfall in Scotland, where the Met Office issued a red weather warning for snow. Retailers in the North East of England, as well as Yorkshire and Humberside were also severely hit, with these regions seeing a fall in footfall of more than -40%.

These figures show the dramatic impact of such extreme weather conditions but it is hardly surprising. People generally heeded the advice of experts to stay indoors, rather than venturing to shops for non-essential items.

Fashion retailers are hit particularly hard by spells of unseasonal weather. Not only are customers far more likely to turn to online shopping, but demand for the new spring and summer lines recently introduced to stores was replaced by a sudden need for hats, scarves and gloves.

How to prepare your business to cope with unpredictable weather

More and more retailers are developing strategies to cope with the unpredictable weather. Weather forecasting continues to improve and, when combined with advanced retail analytics, can help retailers plan for any eventuality and continue to deliver results – even in the face of a cold snap.

Want to read more? Take a look at the KPMG/Ipsos Retail Think Tank’s paper entitled ‘Is the weather an excuse for retailers’ poor business models and risk management?’

Why not sign up to receive our monthly weathermap – for the clearest picture of month-on-month and year-on-year footfall trends in the UK.