Market News

UK Store Traffic Slumps Most Since Covid as Economic Woes Linger - BLOOMBERG

MARCH 01, 2024

BY  Marc Daniel DaviesBloomberg News

, Source: British Retail Consortium

(Bloomberg) -- UK retail traffic fell the most since the pandemic due to train strikes, squeezed budgets and one of the wettest Februarys on record, fueling concerns about the strength of the economy.

The number of shoppers visiting stores last month dropped 6.2% from a year ago, a far steeper fall than the 2.8% decline seen in January, according to the British Retail Consortium. High streets fared particularly badly, with footfall down 9.3% at stores that line city and town centers.

Store traffic was hit by a “collision course of disruptive forces,” including confirmation of a technical recession in 2023 which appears to have weakened consumer confidence, said Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, which helped to produce the figures.

“Even Valentine’s Day, which usually provides a frisson of footfall, failed to woo shoppers,” he said. 

The slump underscores the challenge facing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who’s hoping an economic revival will help save the Conservative Party ahead of a general election expected later this year, following a period of high inflation. UK retail sales rebounded in January after a dire December, adding to hopes the economy had turned a corner.

London visits dropped the most among major UK cities, down 6.2%, while Liverpool and Leeds enjoyed slightly higher traffic.

The figures show the UK is lagging European peers, exacerbated by the end of VAT-free shopping for tourists since 2021, according to BRC Chief Executive Officer Helen Dickinson. The lobby group urged Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt to reinstate the tax break for tourists in his annual budget next week. 

Many retailers are hoping for “an early Easter in March to bring about a change of fortunes,” Sumpter said. 

Some have already said they’re finding it tough. The bicycling and automotive parts retailer Halfords Group Plc issued a profit warning on Wednesday, blaming caution from consumers and wet weather.


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