For the month of April 2016 (from April 3 to 30), the Scottish town center vacancy rate increased 8.4%, and the total retail footfall decreased 6.2% year over year, according to the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and Springboard. The decline in footfall also hit Wales (minus 0.6%), Northern Ireland (minus 5.9%), and the U.K. as a whole (minus 2.4%).
“These are at best mixed results, with a slight and welcome improvement in the shop vacancy rate greatly tempered by a third successive month of declining shopper footfall numbers,” says David Lonsdale, director at the SRC. “Indeed, April saw an acceleration of the recent downwards trend in shopper footfall in our retail destinations, tumbling for a third successive month and at a fast rate than over the past quarter and indeed the year as a whole.”
April’s footfall figures “certainly echo the high street decline seen over recent months, which can be attributable to the poor weather for this time of year, but with digital sales and retail parks also slowing down, it signifies something more at play,” says Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard.
“The rise in unemployment and economic uncertainty in this pre-EU referendum period has undoubtedly adversely impacted consumer activity,” she adds. “We know that cuts in retail spending are the first line of defense against threats to household budgets when consumer confidence is knocked.”
Wehrle considers the footfall performance in Scotland to be “more disheartening” than across the U.K. “High streets and shopping centers were the culprits, with significant drops in footfall of 9.1% and minus 7.2%, respectively,” she says, “although these were at least partially offset by a rise of 2.2% in retail parks.”
Lonsdale suggests keeping 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. Until April’s Scottish sales figures are published, we won’t know what impact this waning of footfall numbers has had on actual retail sales.