UK retail figures show unconfident shoppers still staying home

Retailers are warning of fragile confidence among shoppers after figures revealed visitor numbers to UK high streets, shopping centres and retail parks last month remained 12.5% down on pre-pandemic levels.

The shift to working from home and concerns about the cost of living continue to hold back trade, with visits to shopping centres down by more than a quarter on 2019 while high streets had 14% fewer visitors.

Scotland, Wales, north-east England and London fared far worse than the east Midlands and north-west England, according to the latest British Retail Consortium (BRC) footfall monitor conducted in partnership with shopper monitoring operator Sensormatic Solutions.

The declines marked a slight improvement on April’s numbers, with high streets seeing a particularly strong recovery.

Visitor numbers were also strongly up on last year – by an average 19% across all types of destination – as warm sunny weather and the prospect of the forthcoming jubilee celebrations helped to boost sales.

Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the BRC, which represents most big retailers in the UK, said: “UK footfall made small advances for a third month in a row, as the particularly warm May weather saw more people shop in person.

“The anticipation for the jubilee celebrations offered an added boost to footfall, with the public hitting the shops to find the best decorations and festive food and drink for the long weekend.”

She added: “Improvement to footfall remains fragile as the cost of living bites. With UK discretionary incomes falling, government’s financial support to tackle surging energy costs may only provide temporary respite for households. As inflation continues to climb and consumer confidence falls, it is by no means certain footfall will continue to improve in the months to come.”

Andy Sumpter, at Sensormatic Solutions, said that UK high streets were recovering more strongly than other G7 countries with footfall in Germany and Italy both down by about 20% in May and France by nearly 22%.

However, Sumpter cautioned: “With households already starting to feel the pinch of the rising cost-of-living and growing inflationary pressures, retailers will be hoping that cracks don’t start to appear in the footfall recovery. As they look ahead to June, retailers will be hoping that high streets will be rallied by the jubilee weekend celebrations and that the event will prompt ambient shopper traffic and retail spend.”

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