Visits to UK retailers picked up in March as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted and signs of spring appeared but squeezed incomes cast a cloud over the sector, an industry survey showed.
Store footfall fell by 15.4% from 2019 but the figure was a 1.2 percentage point improvement on February, the British Retail Consortium said. The survey compared 2022 with 2019 to capture the change since before the pandemic.
The result in March was better than the 15.9% three-month average decline and far outstripped activity in Germany, where footfall dropped 38% from 2019; France where visits were down 26%; and Italy which had a 39% drop.
UK retail parks saw the biggest improvement, up 5.1 points on February, followed by high streets where activity increased 3.1 points. Shopping centres had their first significant improvement of 2022, up 4.3 points from February.
More store trips reflected the lifting of pandemic restrictions in England and Northern Ireland and a brief spell of warm weather that brought shoppers out. But the BRC warned the outlook was hard to predict with living costs rising rapidly and consumer confidence falling sharply.
Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s chief executive, said: “March saw another gradual improvement to footfall levels across the UK. Consumers were able to shop with a greater sense of normality, spurred on by some spring sunshine.
“There are many challenges on the horizon. Consumers are now feeling the effects of rising living costs, increased food and fuel prices, and are also anticipating higher energy prices. As belts continue to tighten and prices continue to rise, it will be a difficult road ahead for consumers.”
Northern Ireland had the shallowest decline of all regions with footfall dipping 14.5%, followed by England where activity dropped 14.9% and Wales where visits were down 18.8%. Scotland saw the steepest decline of 21.1%.