By Daniel Hunter
Footfall in the three months to April was 2.0% lower than a year ago, worse than the 1.8% increase in the previous three months, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Footfall weakened in all types of locations, particularly high streets with a 6.4% fall, compared with shopping centres down only 0.8% and out-of-town up 1.2%.
The hardest-hit locations in the past three months were Scotland (-12.6%), the East (-8.9%) and Greater London (-8.2%). Wales (0.6%) was the only region to show increased footfall. The North and Yorkshire (-3.7%) and the East Midlands (-3.7%) showed the smallest declines.
The national town centre vacancy rate in the UK was 11.1% in April 2012 (high streets and shopping centres), unchanged from January 2012 and October 2011. Northern Ireland (16.6%), the North and Yorkshire (13.5%) and West Midlands (12.9%) recorded the highest vacancy rates.
"Double digit declines in shopper numbers in April in almost every part of the UK and stubbornly high shop vacancy rates confirm how tough conditions are for customers and retailers," Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said.
"Some of that is about seasonal factors — the comparison with last year when the weather was better, Easter was later and there was an extra bank holiday - but essentially consumers' lack confidence, disposable incomes are still dropping and fewer people are shopping for anything that isn't essential.
"While March was a better month, with the sun bringing some spring spending forward, cold, wet weather combined with a widespread lack of spare cash kept them at home in April. High streets are more vulnerable to the rain and took the biggest blow, suffering the worst drop in footfall since Nov 2009, which added to the difficulties that are keeping empty shops empty.
"Inflation's downward trajectory moves us closer to the real incomes growth that will get people shopping again but a fundamental turnaround is some way off."
Diane Wehrle, Research Director at Springboard, said: "There's no denying that this has been a tough few months but retailers had braced themselves for the blow in light of the weather forecast. Proof that rain was a leading factor can be seen from the fact that enclosed shopping centres were the only environment that saw positive footfall figures during April's downpours. Out-of-town — where particular outlets tend to be the focus for shoppers, helping to make them weather resistant — saw a welcome rise in footfall across the quarter, also thanks in part to the free and plentiful parking on offer.
"Moving forward, the silver lining is that May and June footfall across the board should be boosted by public holidays, with many high streets and shopping centres planning special footfall-driving events specifically for the Queen's Jubilee."
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