The number of consumers visiting shops rose 3.8 per cent in March compared with February, but numbers were down on March 2012 – by six per cent.
Punishing periods of snow and unseasonal cold weather were particularly tough on shops in the fortnight commencing Sunday March 10th, said the latest Retail Traffic Index (RTI) compiled by Ipsos Retail Performance.
The mixed set of figures in the first week of Easter (w/c March 24th) saw South West England and Wales retail footfall up 7.1 per cent (compared with the same week of 2012) and in South East England and London up by 2.6 per cent. In other parts of the UK, though, numbers were down: Compared with the first week of Easter 2012, shopper numbers were 10.2 per cent lower.
Overall, in terms of retail footfall, 2013 unsurpringly saw a quiet first quarter of 2013, 5.3 per cent down on Q1 2012, significantly weaker than the 2.0 per cent decline in Q4 2012.
“Weather conditions could not have been more different to last year, when March was the sunniest on record since 1929 and the warmest since 1997,” explained Dr Tim Denison, director of Retail Intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance.
“This clearly had a dramatic impact on shopper footfall in March just gone, with many deciding to remain at home. DIY enthusiasts and gardeners, for example, who would normally be out in force at this time of the year, remained deep in hibernation.”
Sunshine ahead for retailers
The forecast isn't so glum, however. As the weather warms, Ipsos said real disposable income levels are in better shape than expected – they rose by 2.1 per cent in 2012, their strongest growth since 2003. The Asda income tracker reported another modest increase in household discretionary income of £3 per week. The household savings ratio now stands at 7.1 per cent, its highest since 1997.
Denison added: “We sense that with the first rays of sunshine and warmth, consumers will be keen to get out and shops will see a surge in footfall. The winter weather seems to have lasted longer than ever this year, and as a consequence many people have deferred their normal spring shopping spree. We know from the stats that there is a little more disposable income in people’s pockets; all we need now is some encouragement to get outside of the house, visit the local shops and spend it.”