Easter shoppers desert UK high streets, spreading retail gloom

The gloom on Britain’s high streets deepened over the Easter bank holiday weekend as heavy rain in many areas drove people to seek the shelter of shopping centres or simply stay at home.

The number of shoppers on UK high streets on Easter Sunday morning slumped by over 12% compared to 2017, according to retail intelligence firm Springboard. That followed a disappointing Good Friday, when high street footfall fell by 9.6%. Saturday was little better, with footfall down 6.9% year-on-year.

This weekend had been billed as the most anticipated weekend for retail since Christmas, but Springboard said bad weather in some parts of the country had “definitely hit high streets”, and pulled the overall result for all UK shopping destinations down into minus figures.

A week ago Springboard predicted that this Easter weekend’s UK retail footfall could end up 2.4% higher than last year’s, though it had said this assumed “normal weather”. It added that if freezing conditions similar to those caused by the “beast from the east” returned, all bets were off.

In the event wet weather sent a chill through the high streets, meaning footfall across all shopping destinations was down 2.4% on Good Friday and 3% lower on Saturday.

However, retail parks and shopping centres typically enjoyed better fortunes than they did last year.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, said the rain kept many people away from their local high street shops. But “at the same time, people did go shopping” rather than staying at home and browsing the web.

She said the numbers were “generally pretty good news for retailers”, many of whom would be quite heartened by the numbers of shoppers out on Good Friday and Easter Saturday.

With predictions of snow in some parts of the country for Easter Monday, many retailers will be crossing their fingers and hoping that conditions are not too challenging. Last week it emerged that high street sales had slumped at the fastest rate for early spring in at least five years, as cold and snowy weather kept people away from the shops.

Wehrle said of Easter Monday: “If it starts off dry in the morning, that will shape the day. If people wake up and it’s snowing, that will be it.”

It has been a bleak few weeks for many of Britain’s retailers, with last month’s lengthy cold snap heaping added pressure on to firms that were already having to contend with consumers feeling squeezed by weak wage growth and rising inflation.

Last week, H&M said price cuts and cold weather were to blame for a slump in profits at the start of the year, and earlier in the month Carpetright signalled it may be considering axing up to a quarter of its 409 UK stores.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Next recently described 2017 as the toughest year in the past 25 years, fashion retailer Ted Baker warned of challenging trading conditions, Moss Bros issued a stark profits warning, B&Q reported falling sales, Mothercare said it remained in talks with its bankers, and New Look’s creditors voted to slim down the struggling fashion retailer.

Many retailers had been hoping the Easter weekend would bring some good news as people reinstated shopping trips that they had cancelled because of the freezing conditions, and took advantage of better weather to visit garden centres and DIY stores.

Footfall at the UK’s shopping centres was up 5.8% year-on-year on Good Friday, and by 1.5% on Saturday. By contrast, despite the adverse weather conditions, the volume of Good Friday online transactions as measured by the firm PCA Predict was down 1.4% on last year, possibly reflecting the fact that for many people, a family outing to the shops is a key bank holiday weekend leisure activity.