By Jonathan Davies

The High Street continued to struggle to attract shoppers in August, as footfall fell 2.8% compared with August last year, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard.

The BRC said overall footfall for August saw a 1.1% annual decrease, down from the 0.6% fall in June. Shopping centres also saw a 1.1% drop, but there was better news of out-of-town locations (retail parks) which reported a 2.9% rise in footfall.

Northern Ireland saw the biggest rise in overall footfall, 4.2% higher than August 2013. The South East (1.2%), East Midlands (0.5%) and Scotland (1.8%) also reported increases, but they were the only regions to do so.

Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: “Footfall might be down slightly this month but retail sales performed well in August. Taking account of the impact of online shopping we see that customers are spending more per trip than in recent months. It seems that customers are hitting the High Streets with purpose — knowing what they want to buy ahead of time, supported by online research — and doing more shopping in a single trip.

"Out-of-town performed better than High Streets. The strong sales performance of furniture retailers, who for reasons of space tend to be located on retail parks, seems to have given a boost to the footfall figures in out-of-town locations. This is no doubt driven by increasing optimism in the housing market and customers having more confidence to spend on increasingly bigger-ticket items.

"All this is yet more evidence that the way we shop is fundamentally changing as retailers continue to adapt to changes in shopping habits. The lines between bricks and mortar stores and digital interactions are less defined and more seamless as retailers continue to innovate in order to meet and exceed the needs of their customers. We will continue to see the whole customer experience becoming more and more important in the use of physical space.”

Diane Wehrle, Retail Insights Director at Springboard, said: "The drop in footfall in August in high streets and shopping centres — which has occurred in all but one month this year - underlines further that it is these locations that are vulnerable to the adverse effect of change that is occurring across our retail landscape as a consequence of online shopping. The good news is that while footfall dropped, sales rose in August, primarily driven by clothing and footwear - traditionally town centre focused purchases - indicating that at least in part the drop in footfall will have been offset by increased dwell time and transaction values. At the same time, however, out of town footfall has increased for the 8th consecutive month, with an average rise in 2014 of 3.2 per cent compared with a drop of 1.5 per cent in high streets and 0.7 per cent in shopping centres.

"In part the success of out of town locations this year is undoubtedly due to the increased demand for household items driven by the rise in house prices, however, they are also delivering an increasingly attractive wider leisure based offer with plentiful free car parking in a safe environment. Whilst high streets and shopping centres are working hard to both retain and to win back customers, if they are to prosper over the critical Christmas trading period in the face of strong out of town competition, it requires the speedy alleviation of obvious barriers to shoppers such as high parking costs."

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