Mar 9, 2020
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Rain stops play as UK stores see footfall washout in February

Mar 9, 2020

With coronavirus fears continuing to affect UK consumer behaviour (and also to dent tourist arrivals), footfall reports are being even more keenly watched at the moment. On Monday, Springboard released its latest report – for February – and it showed footfall down quite sharply in some shopping locations.

It was rain, rather than coronavirus, that kept UK shoppers out of stores last month

However, it was heavy rain rather than virus fears that was to blame as those virus concerns have only really been making a big impact in recent days.

In February, people were more worried about going out in bad weather and this meant that the high street in particular suffered. Overall footfall was down 4.9% yet in high streets it fell 7.8%. But people didn't seem to be so worried about going out to retail parks in the rain. Footfall to those locations also fell, but only by 1.1% and Springboard said that the disparity between these and high streets "clearly demonstrates how much more sheltered retail parks are from many of the vagaries that derail high streets”.

And shopping centres? They were down 2.5%, which meant an average decline over the first two months of 2020 of 1.1%. This is better than the 2.5% drop a year earlier, "indicating that shopping centres are on the cusp of achieving some stability in terms of footfall”. 

That said, we can't ignore the fact that visitor traffic to these locations is still falling and if you add this year's two months of results onto the drop in the previous year, it still shows that shopping centre landlords and their tenants are having to deal with fairly significant declines overall.

Much of the pressure seems to be falling on smaller shopping centres though. For February, Springboard said that larger locations were leading the recovery with only a 1.1% drop at those covering more than half a million ft.². But shopping centres covering less than half a million ft.² dropped 4.2% and those with less than 100,000 ft.² were down a worrying 8%.

We've already seen how analysts have been predicting that the very large so-called supermalls are those that are likely to succeed long term and how these locations are the ones that are able to attract the best tenants. These latest figures are further signs that what the analysts are saying is correct and that consumers are seeing less point in visiting small shopping centres with less choice available to them when they could go to a retail park instead.

And the coronavirus? Well, as mentioned at the start, concerns around this were less noticeable earlier in the month and Springboard said they didn’t have a measurable impact even later on. The month ended before the warning of its increased severity was made. But the specialist football tracker expects shopper activity to be more muted during March as consumers become more wary about interacting in public spaces.

It added that Q1 overall is likely to prove challenging for retailers on a number of fronts. We already know that footfall was fairly anaemic during the January clearance sales and that the weather had an impact last month. Assuming that March is affected by the coronavirus issue, it's bad news all round for physical shops. But Springboard also said that “experience has proven that footfall bounces back quickly once the immediate period of concern has passed”.

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