Shopper numbers slide despite out-of-town stampede

Scotland’s high streets and shopping centres have suffered a set-back with the first drop in footfall numbers in four months, though industry bosses say there is little cause for alarm.

The latest numbers highlight the growing trend to shop out of town. Picture: Toby Williams
The latest numbers highlight the growing trend to shop out of town. Picture: Toby Williams

The latest numbers from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and Springboard – published today – also highlight the growing trend to shop out of town, where shoppers face lower or no parking charges and less congestion.

In contrast to the lacklustre town and city centre numbers, footfall in Scotland’s major retail parks rose for the 14th consecutive month, the report reveals. That still left overall shopper numbers in May 1.8 per cent lower than a year earlier – the worst performance since January and below the UK average for last month of minus 1 per cent.

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David Lonsdale, director of the SRC, said: “The sustained growth in shopper footfall has been one of the economic bright spots over the past year, and so the slight contraction in footfall witnessed in May hopefully owes more to shoppers catching their breath than anything more serious.

“Indeed, this is the first reported dip in footfall since January and only the third since this time last year.
We also have to bear in mind that Scottish retailers are increasingly adept at harnessing the internet and multi-channel innovations to get through to consumers who might not have time to travel to the shops.

“That said, shoppers undoubtedly remain cautious – despite growth in pay outstripping inflation – and retail sales remain humdrum.”

The footfall monitor collates information from more than 600 counting locations in 227 shopping sites in 142 towns and cities across the UK. It covers the main centres in each nation or region and a “representative” sample of secondary and smaller town centres. The monitor is seen as giving a fair indication as to how footfall may translate into actual sales.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: “The drop in footfall of 1.8 per cent in Scotland is a noticeable downward shift from the increase of 1.1 per cent in April.

“In line with the UK, it is high streets and shopping centres that drove the decline with drops of 3.6 per cent and 4.4 per cent respectively. Footfall in retail parks in Scotland rose for the 14th consecutive month, although the rate of increase dropped away from 9.5 per cent in April to 5.9 per cent in May.”

She added: “The success of retail parks is undoubtedly a function of owner driven change that has led to the introduction of a family based leisure offer in many out-of-town locations that previously fulfilled a purely functional role.

“This, in combination with plentiful and free car parking has enhanced the attraction of retail parks and improved their efficiency as click and collect locations for the ever increasing number of omni-channel shoppers.

“The high cost of parking in high streets and shopping centres, together with travel times due to congestion, means that urban destinations are at an obvious and increasing disadvantage.”

Only three English regions posted year-on-year rises for May, with the east coming out on top with 2 per cent, followed by Greater London with a 0.8 per cent rise and the East Midlands recording 0.2 per cent. Wales posted a sharp 4.3 per cent fall, with a 0.4 per cent drop in Northern Ireland.