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News - 11 August 2007

Rain clouds have a silver lining for retailers

It has by all accounts been the gloomiest summer on record but it wasn’t all bad. July saw the Retail FootFall Index (RFI) hit the highest level seen so far in 2007 as summer rain drove consumers away from the beach and into shopping centres for days out.

As a seaside town Brighton has done particularly well. Footfall has not only risen month on month but unlike the rest of the UK is also up on last year.

The figures, released by Experian company FootFall, show a rise in UK shopper numbers of 1.5% since June – the second month-on-month rise in a row – a trend that is rarely seen at this time of year.

In Brighton the steady increase has continued into August with a rise above the seasonal average of almost 50,000 people passing Imperial Arcade in the course of the last week.

Martin Davies, spokesperson for FootFall, says, “The RFI, which measures visitors to retail outlets, shopping centres and high streets across the UK, is at its highest level so far this year. The extreme weather conditions this summer have definitely played a part in tempting people away from the coast or other outdoor destinations and into shopping centres. This is becoming an emerging trend with modern families, who are increasingly choosing ‘destination centres’, where play areas and food courts sit alongside traditional retail outlets, for day trips or family outings.”

Despite the positive month-on-month figures recorded by the RFI, comparisons against 2006 are still low, with shopper numbers trailing 3.5% behind. However, although there are less people out shopping than a year ago, the gap in numbers has been closing for the past two months.

Davies continues: “The RFI only measures footfall, so whether the surge in visitor numbers during July will be reflected in increasing sales is yet to be determined, as many unplanned visits to shopping centres are still of a browsing or selective purchase nature.

“Also, with the weather forecasts for August looking more promising, the burst in retail activity that we saw in July may be short-lived, especially as the impact of interest rates rises slows high street spending. In the next few months retailers’ thoughts will be turning to Christmas, while consumers face the possibility of a further rate rise before the year is out.”

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