Cold weather and early Easter deter shoppers

The number of shoppers on UK high streets continued a long-term decline in March, aggravated by an early Easter and colder spring weather.

Shoppers on Edinburgh's Princes Street. Picture:  Scott Louden
Shoppers on Edinburgh's Princes Street. Picture: Scott Louden

Overall footfall across the country’s retail outlets dropped by 2.7 per cent, according to the report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard, as Easter fell in March as opposed to April, cutting trading days that were lost to public holidays.

The number of shoppers in the five weeks to 2 April across the country’s high streets fell further by 3.9 per cent.

Today’s report also blamed colder weather in March, which saw the number of shoppers fall in regions across the UK.

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The BRC called on the UK government to press on with changes aimed at helping small businesses.

Chancellor George Osborne said in his March Budget that 600,000 small firms south of the Border will not have to pay business rates, while 250,000 will pay lower rates from April next year.

But this month the government also introduced the national living wage, which will lift minimum hourly pay to £7.20 for over-25s, from the current level of £6.50, and to at least £9 an hour by 2020.

Small retailers say this change will predominantly hit businesses such as theirs, often at the heart of small communities.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The industry stands ready to work with government to ensure these policies are implemented in a way that achieves government objectives while minimising the burden on retail businesses.”

She added: “The near 4 per cent decline in footfall on our high streets and in shopping centres is partially caused by the distortion of the timing of Easter.

“It is, however, also a continuation of a longer-term trend caused by on-going structural change within the retail industry.”

Sales via online and smartphones take up an increasing share of retail spending.

Dickinson said: “We also know that declining footfall makes it harder to keep shops open and profitable. Areas that are already economically fragile are likely to see the greatest impact of future store closures.”