Retail footfall slumps to record low
UK footfall plummeted in March, as Covid-19 kept consumers at home and shut shops, research published on Monday showed.
The BRC-ShopperTrak reported a record 44.7% slump in March. In the first three weeks of the month, the average decline was 17.7% as people chose to stay at home to reduce the risk of catching the virus. But after more stringent lockdown measures were introduced on 23 March, that plunged to 83.2% in the last week.
Worst hit were shopping centres, which saw footfall decline 43.6% year-on-year, while high streets recorded a 41.8% fall. Retail parks saw a 23.5% decrease, after a number benefited from being home to supermarkets as well as being bigger, more open spaces than other shopping locations, making social distancing easier.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: "Retail is facing an unprecedented challenge, particularly those geared towards high street sales.
"Government schemes have been welcomed by the industry as an essential lifeline. However, many jobs and businesses depend on this backing, the government must remain flexible it its support over the coming weeks, with football expected to fall even further."
Andy Sumpter, ShopperTrak retail consultant, said: "The way in which we shop has dramatically changed, with consumers shopping by themselves - causing an artificial drop in footfall numbers - and retailers limiting shopper numbers in store.
"All eyes are on our team in China, who are monitoring the safe return of retail as they come out of lockdown. They report that in Shanghai after four weeks of opening up again, stores are 80% trading with visitor numbers back to 70% of normal."
Clive Black, retail analyst at Shore Capital, called the March data "dire but expected".
But he warned: "If one thinks such information is bad, then wait for April’s, which will feature a whole month of lockdown and a somewhat wiped out Easter. Indeed, while such backward looking data is informative in painting a picture of the impact of lockdown, here and now one senses that the intensity of economic pain is growing.
"The April BRC data in general, but particularly covering non-essential retailing, will be dire - history-making in front of our eyes."
Shore Capital believes the pandemic will hurt earnings across the UK consumer economy in 2020. The one exception is likely to be supermarket groups, though it conceded Tesco "has already dampened expectations on this front". The chain said at the start of April operating costs in the current year would increase between £650m and £925m, primarily because of increased staffing and distribution costs.