Rain dampens shoppers’ enthusiasm for high street

SHOPPER numbers across the North and Yorkshire region over a three-month period are down on last year, its performance worse than the UK average, but ranking among the areas with the lowest declines, a report revealed today.

Meanwhile, heavy downpours during April hit footfall on the country’s high streets particularly badly, as town centres witnessed the worst decline in shopper numbers since November 2009. The UK saw an overall decline in visitors to the high street of 6.4 per cent overall between February and April, compared with the same period in 2011, according to data from retail specialist Springboard.

Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said the figures showed how tough conditions are for customers and retailers.

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Footfall overall dropped two per cent in the UK in the three-month period, compared to 2011, while in the North and Yorkshire the figure has declined 3.7 per cent. These figures encompass footfall on the high street, at shopping centres and at out-of-town stores combined.

Wales saw a lift in overall footfall at 0.6 per cent, which brought the UK average up, explaining the fact that the North and Yorkshire region was still among those areas showing the smallest decline in overall footfall, despite dropping below the UK average. Meanwhile, the effect of the rain was evident from a 0.4 per cent year-on-year rise in shopper numbers at indoor shopping centres in the UK last month.

The North and Yorkshire was among the regions which recorded the highest vacancy rates for April, at 13.5 per cent, compared to a 11.1 per cent UK average. Mr Robertson said double digit declines in shopper numbers in April in almost every part of the UK and “stubbornly high” shop vacancy rates are partly down to seasonal factors, with the weather last year having been better, Easter having been later and an extra bank holiday. But he added: “Essentially consumers lack confidence, disposable incomes are still dropping and fewer people are shopping for anything that isn’t essential.

“While March was a better month, with the sun bringing some spring spending forward, cold, wet weather combined with a widespread lack of spare cash kept them at home in April. High streets are more vulnerable to the rain and took the biggest blow, suffering the worst drop in footfall since November 2009, which added to the difficulties that are keeping empty shops empty. Inflation’s downward trajectory moves us closer to the real incomes growth that will get people shopping again but a fundamental turnaround is some way off.”

Hopes for a boost during the long Diamond Jubilee weekend provide a much-needed “silver lining”, said Springboard’s research director Diane Wehrle.