Back-to-school boosted September footfall ahead of ‘critical trading period’: BRC

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Footfall in September reached its highest level since the onset of the pandemic, coming within 10 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels, stated British Retail Consortium (BRC) today (7).

Overall, total footfall increased by 8.0 per cent – High Streets by 12.9 per cent, Retail Parks by 0.4 per cent and Shopping Centres by 17.3 per cent.

According to BRC-Sensormatic IQ data, footfall decreased by 9.8 per cent in September (Yo3Y), a 2.6 percentage point improvement from August. This is better than the 3-month average decline of 11.4 per cent.

Footfall on High Streets declined by 11.9 per cent in September (Yo3Y), 1.7 percentage points better than last month’s rate and an improvement on the 3-month average decline of 13.0 per cent.

Retail Parks saw footfall decrease by 2.5 per cent (Yo3Y), 1.6 percentage points better than last month’s rate and an improvement on the 3-month average decline of 9.3 per cent. Shopping Centre footfall declined by 22.7 per cent (Yo3Y), the same as last month’s rate and above the 3-month average decline of 23.0 per cent.

England again saw the shallowest footfall decline of all regions at -7.9 per cent, followed by Wales at -8.7 per cent. Scotland and Northern Ireland saw the joint steepest decline at -13.4 per cent.

Commenting on the figures, Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said that High Streets and Retail Parks saw an improvement in shopper numbers, while Shopping Centres continued to lag significantly behind, still more than a fifth down from three years ago.

“Shopping Centres continue to see higher vacancy rates than other locations, with many not have recovered from the loss of key anchor stores such as Debenhams, which went into liquidation during the pandemic.

Dickinson further added that these figures belie the collapse in consumer confidence which has resulted in falling sales volumes throughout the year.

“Meanwhile, soaring cost inflation is leading to upwards pressure on prices. The recent mini budget failed to provide retailers with clarity on the future of business rates, already a massive cost. Without action, retailers could face a 10 per cent rise in their rates bill – equal to an additional £800m across the industry.

While the energy support for businesses has been warmly welcomed by companies, Dickinson added that a freeze to business rates, with the promise of further reform, would go a long way to restoring business confidence and supporting future investment, as well as offering retailers a means to cut prices for their customers.

Andy Sumpter, Retail Consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, commented that retail saw footfall recovery was boosted in part by Back-To-School trading at the beginning of the month though retailers won’t be looking at High Street performance through rose-tinted glasses.

“With all eyes turning towards the Golden Quarter, perhaps with a starker air of caution given the financial turbulence seen over the last few weeks and higher energy bills starting to hit consumers from October, many are already downgrading Christmas trading forecasts amid shaky consumer confidence.

“And this means that amongst the usual pressures of preparing for peak, retailers will need to think hard about how they can support – and deliver value to – an increasingly cautious cost-of-living shopper during what will be a critical trading period,” Sumpter said.