According to the BRC, footfall in April was 0.1% lower than a year ago, down on the 1.8% rise in March. High streets reported the largest decline, falling 1.4%, substantially down from the 2.6% rise in March while shopping centres experienced a 0.9% decline in footfall. Footfall in out-of-town locations fared the best with a 4% increase year-on-year.
Northern Ireland reported the greatest increase in regional footfall, up 12.8% year-on-year. The national town centre vacancy rate in the UK was 10.6% in April 2014, a decrease from January’s rate of 11.0%.
Helen Dickinson, BRC director general, says: “Hopefully the flat footfall growth witnessed in April will prove short-lived, coming as it does after a favourable expansion the month before.
“As we saw with our retail sales data released last week, purchases of big ticket items such as furniture, gardening, DIY and materials for revamping the home performed well, off the back of a pick-up in the housing market. Out of town retail locations have directly benefited as a result, whilst footfall on our high streets has dipped.
“The decline in the vacancy rate is heartening – however every tenth shop still remains unoccupied. This reinforces the need for an overhaul of the business rates system, which would increase retailers’ confidence about investing in property, create more jobs and help revive high streets.”
Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, says: "The 0.1% drop in footfall in April is disappointing following the increase of 1.8% in March, particularly as the month included the whole of Easter bank holiday period – in contrast with the split over two months last year – and benefited from mild weather, which tends to support activity in retail destinations.
"However, whilst footfall in high streets and shopping centres fell annually, in out of town locations footfall continued to increase with a rise of 4% – the fourth month in a row that footfall in retail parks has increased. The disparity in performance between urban and out of town locations is at least in part due to rising house prices which tends to make consumers more enthusiastic about investing in home products, the greatest choice of which is found in retail parks. Indeed, this reflects sales in April which rose by 5.7%, with furniture and floorcoverings being the best performing category and reporting the highest growth since April 2006.
"In overall terms however, the fact that footfall has dropped last month from an increase of 1% in April 2013 against a backdrop of an improved economic situation, strongly suggests a new cautiousness amongst consumers. But despite this cautiousness, vacancy rates have dropped slightly over the last three months from 11% to 10.6%, suggesting that retailers are starting to take space in anticipation of an upturn in consumer demand."