The number of shoppers visiting stores in the UK fell at the steepest rate in nine months in August, reflecting the continuing pressures facing retailers, new figures show.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC)/Springboard footfall monitor said 1.6% fewer shoppers went to stores last month, the largest fall since a 2.4% drop last November.
It called for a reduction in “financial or regulatory burdens” from the Government – at a time when retailers are beginning to count the expected cost of the Government’s national living wage.
The report said August’s sharp drop was partly explained by the late date of last month’s public holiday that will see two days of the bank holiday weekend at the end of the month counted in September’s figures.
The latest decline follows a 1.1% fall in July, and is below the three-month average which shows a 1.4% slide.
It comes amid signs that wet weather took its toll on retailers last month, with consumers preferring to take advantage of the strong pound to jet off for late summer breaks in sunnier climes.
Earlier this month a BRC/KPMG Sales Monitor said UK retail like-for-like sales fell by 1% in August compared with a year ago, due to the weather and the late bank holiday, hitting key back-to-school sales of clothing, footwear and stationery.
Today’s footfall report said visitors to shopping centres last month fell by 2.8%. Footfall on the high street fell by 2.3% in August.
Shopper numbers in retail parks lifted 1.7% last month, although this was the slowest rate of growth since May.
BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: “The continued decline in footfall in shopping centres and on the high street is disappointing, but not surprising.
“These numbers are a clear demonstration of the continued pressures the UK retail industry is facing. We know that retailers are steadily maintaining sales but at lower prices and to fewer people visiting physical stores.
“As we start the long march to Christmas, retailers will want to see an increase in shopper numbers in all store locations. Most will also be hoping for a decrease in any financial or regulatory burdens heading their way from government.
“These only make the job of getting the right products to UK consumers at the right price harder at a time when the hurdles to running a successful retail business are high enough.”
The remarks come after retailer Next last week set out how it would be affected by the national living wage policy, which will see workers aged 25 and over paid £7.20 an hour from next April, rising to £9 from 2020.
Next said the cost of implementing the policy could rise to £27 million a year and result in higher prices for consumers.