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February fails to spark love for retailers

High Street

Retail footfall levels across the UK failed to pick up during February, with footfall traffic in non-food stores -6.8% lower than the previous year.

The sluggish start to the year for retailers shows little sign of respite, with average UK weekly footfall down -12.8% on January across the board. This mirrors the average monthly decline of -12.6% in 2017.

Ipsos Retail Performance, the global retail and footfall consultant, compiles the Retail Traffic Index (RTI), which is derived from the number of individual shoppers entering over 4,000 non-food retail stores across the UK.

This is now the tenth consecutive month that store footfall has declined compared to the previous year in the UK. The fall in the retail traffic index was once again most apparent in South East England and London, with footfall figures down by -11.4% compared to the same period last February.

The whole of February remained quiet for retailers, however, the week including Valentine’s Day and the spring half term showed slight improvements. The Midlands region enjoyed the strongest performance, yet remained down -4.6% compared to February 2017.

Dr Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance said:

“The squeeze on consumer revenue remains palpable, making trading increasingly brutal. During February, it appears that shopping for essentials continued to be people’s spending priority.

“This month New Look has joined the list of retailers looking for rent reductions, planning store closures and considering a CVA. We’ve also seen both Toys “R” Us and Maplin finally hit the buffers in the UK, however, perhaps even more telling, though, is the news that Poundworld is also struggling, despite being at the value end of the sector. This shows that it’s not only the crowded middle market that is struggling now, and though the worst of the economic downturn may be behind us, it is not something that has filtered through to the high street.

“There’s talk about a return to ‘normalisation’ in an economic sense over the next few years, with interest rates rising to a level of 2-2.5% and a cessation of quantitative easing. It would be comforting to think that retailers could set off on their own ‘normalisation’ journey, weaning shoppers off their discount dependency and returning to a state of healthy competition.”

With freezing conditions set to strike many parts of the country at the start of March, Mother Nature is expected to continue to keep shoppers away from the high street. Prospects do, however, look much brighter towards end of the month as the Easter break straddles March and April. It is hoped this will help provide much needed relief for retailers following a disappointing run of footfall figures since October 2017.

Dr Tim Denison explained:

“Due to Easter falling earlier this year, we’re not expecting the shops to be as busy as many would hope. We do, however, remain upbeat and our forecast of -1.8% is bullish given the current climate, but late spring often sees an upturn in visits to physical stores as inquisitive shoppers explore new ranges and fashions.”

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