By Daniel Hunter
Footfall in March was 5.2% lower than a year ago, a poorer performance than the 0.8% rise in February. This is the weakest performance since April 2012 when footfall declined 6.9%, according to the British Retail Consortium.
The prolonged cold snap this year explains in part these poor figures, especially against the unseasonably warm weather in March last year.
Footfall weakened in all locations in March compared with a year earlier. High streets reported the greatest fall (-7.0%), the weakest performance since July 2012 followed by out-of-town (-4.2%) and shopping centres (-2.4%).
Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: "The prolonged cold was the main culprit for deterring shoppers, especially compared against the far milder March of 2012. Although footfall did pick up around the Easter weekend, it couldn't fully compensate for a weak showing across the month as a whole.
"High streets were hit the hardest by the cold snap, as many of us favoured shopping under shelter rather than braving the elements. In February, high streets had been the standout performer, but March saw footfall growth slumping back to subzero territory — high streets' worst result since July 2012.
"It's not all bad news: our March sales figures were fairly strong, even if you strip out the data for the Easter weekend which fell earlier this year than in 2012. This suggests that, when people did venture out, they bought things, although the weather brought mixed fortunes for different categories as food did well but Spring and Summer fashions fared badly. With temperatures finally showing some signs of lifting, retailers will be hoping that demand also starts to heat up for seasonal ranges and Spring shopping trips."
Diane Wehrle, Retail Insights Director at Springboard, said: "Despite high streets seeing a strong performance in February, predictably the bad weather, plus the Budget and media attention given to the reform to the benefit system have hit consumer confidence.
"High street footfall dropped with just one in five towns recording positive results. Moreover, the average increase amongst towns in which footfall did increase was just 6.9 per cent compared with an average decline of 11.4 per cent amongst those high streets whose footfall fell from March last year.
"It's key to bear in mind that March 2013 was much colder than in 2012, where most of the UK experienced unseasonable soaring temperatures, whereas rain, snow and bitter cold further encouraged shoppers to stay at home.
"The final week of the month did yield some positive results, with retail park footfall significantly bolstered, up 7.9 per cent against the previous week, with home-owners taking advantage of the long Easter bank holiday to visit DIY out-of-town outlets."
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