UK footfall drops again as AW18 season appears to repeat 2017's weakness

Footfall to physical retail stores remained sluggish in the UK ahead of the key festive shopping months, piling further pain onto the fashion sector after what has been a far-from-stellar AW18 season so far.


UK fashion stores faced the problem of weak footfall in October


Specialist tracking firm Springboard said Monday that October footfall dropped 2% year-on-year. That’s the same drop that was recorded in October 2017, widely acknowledged to have been one of the worst Octobers ever for the fashion sector. This also means that the cumulative visitor traffic fall of the past few years ago is mounting up.

This year, the October drop was the 11th consecutive month of decline. But it was about more than just a general switch away from physical stores with Springboard also saying that last month was characterised by consumers waiting for Black Friday and seasonal discounts before visiting the shops.

Northern Ireland was the only region to record growth (2.7%), with the East and East Midlands seeing the deepest footfall decreases of 6.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Wales saw a deceleration in its footfall decline, from the 5.5% recorded in September to a fall of 2.3% in October.

The most worrying aspect of all this is that the shopping centres in which so many fashion stores are concentrated saw the steepest decline. Their visitor traffic fell as much as 3.3%, after a 2.5% drop in September, to mark the 19th consecutive monthly fall. None of the UK regions saw shopping centres growth, which is bad news for all those chain store locations 

High street footfall dropped 2.3%, marking three months of consecutive weakening for this shopping location. The decline in the South East saw a significant acceleration from 0.6% to 5% in this location, the deepest fall since April 2018 when it declined by 6.2%.

And even retail parks, which have offered some hope for the fashion sector because of the increasing inclusion of fashion stores in their mix, were weaker this time. Their footfall dropped by 0.2% after two months of positive growth.

Springboard also said that the national town centre vacancy rate was 9.6% in October, an increase on a year ago when the rate was 9.3%. Most regions saw a deterioration in their vacancy rate compared to the previous quarter. Greater London's rate widened by a whole percentage point from 4% in July to 5% in October, though it remains the region with the lowest number of vacancies in the UK. Northern Ireland saw the biggest improvement from 14.4% in July to 13.3% in October.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, said: “If further evidence of the veracity of footfall as an indicator of retail trading performance were required then it is provided by October's result. Not only does it reflect the ongoing challenges that the retail sector is facing but, as importantly, with the decline becoming larger in every month since June, it is illustrating that the challenges for retailers have been increasing as we moved through the year. [This is] demonstrating that consumer demand is continuing to weaken which, as we head into the key trading period of the year, suggests that Christmas could be challenging."

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