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Shopper footfall and retail sales improve despite looming cost-of-living crisis

Shopper footfall has shown increases across the UK as Covid restrictions have eased (Steve Parsons/PA)
Shopper footfall has shown increases across the UK as Covid restrictions have eased (Steve Parsons/PA)

Shopper footfall across the UK continued its gradual improvement in March as many consumers enjoyed their first full month free of Covid restrictions.

While all UK shopping locations enjoyed higher footfall levels than earlier in the pandemic, shopping centres saw a significant improvement for the first time in 2022 as shoppers browsed multiple stores in preparation for the summer season, British Retail Consortium (BRC)-Sensormatic IQ figures show.

Total UK footfall was still down 15.4% in March on three years previously, but a 1.2 percentage point improvement from February and better than the three-month average decline of 15.9%.

Footfall on high streets was down 17.8% on March three years ago but 3.1 percentage points better than last month’s rate.

Shopping centre footfall was 4.3 percentage points up on last month’s rate.

BRC chief executive, Helen Dickinson, said: “March saw another gradual improvement to footfall levels across the UK. As the first full month without coronavirus restrictions in England and Northern Ireland, consumers were able to shop with a greater sense of normality, spurred on by some spring sunshine.

“There are many challenges on the horizon as consumer confidence fell to its lowest levels in 16 months. Consumers are now feeling the effects of rising living costs, increased food and fuel prices, and are also anticipating higher energy prices from 1 April.

“The impact on retail footfall and retail sales across both stores and online is yet to be seen, but as belts continue to tighten and prices continue to rise, it will be a difficult road ahead for consumers.”

Meanwhile, figures from business advisory firm BDO also show the retail sector recording its 13th consecutive month of positive like-for-like sales, although non-store, like-for-like sales fell for the third consecutive month.

However, BDO head of retail and wholesale, Sophie Michael, warned that some of this discretionary spending was supported by record levels of household borrowing, and that there may be good reason to expect some pull-back in this spending over coming months.

According to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker, total like-for-like sales in-store and online increased by 60.9% in March from a base of 42.5% for the equivalent month last year.

Both fashion and lifestyle categories saw substantial increases in their total like-for-like sales, however, homewares saw its first fall since April 2020.

Ms Michael said: “Our results in March have highlighted that consumer spending remains high despite impending increases to the cost of living this month. However, there are also concerning signs that some of this spending is being supported by record levels of household borrowing, which has increased lately even as consumer confidence plummets.

“There may be good reason to expect some pull-back in discretionary spending over coming months, though the impact will inevitably vary across different areas of retail.”

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