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Easter 2023 brought a boost in footfall for high street and rural retailers as more shoppers took to the streets during the warmer weather and chose to support local bricks and mortar shops.
According to retail experts MRI Springboard, over the seven days last week from Sunday to Easter Saturday, footfall was +14.2% higher than the week before - the largest week-on-week increase since the week leading up to Christmas 2022. In high streets, it was even greater at +17%.
In particular, Good Friday exceeded all expectations with an increase in footfall from the week before of +17.5%. The rise in footfall on high streets on that day was even greater at +26.8%, although footfall also rose on Good Friday from the week in shopping centres (+8.1%) and retail parks (+7.4%).
Rural retail performed well
Coastal and historic towns were the winners over Easter, and the greatest week-on-week increases were in the East (+15.9%), the South West (+17.3) and Wales (+18%), all of which have extensive coastlines and a strong representation of coastal towns.
According to Diane Wehrle, insights director at MRI Springboard, “Easter this year was pre-empted by strong footfall performance every day during the week in the run-up to Easter, and then the weekend itself was undoubtedly helped by the warm and sunny weather.”
Jeff Moody, commercial director at the British Independent Retail Association (BIRA) added, “All sectors of retail, especially food benefited from the mix of back-to-back bank holidays and good weather as consumer confidence looks to be returning slowly after months of declining footfall figures.”
This is something that Emma Mosey, owner of Yolk Farm and Minskip Farm Shop, certainly felt, as she told Speciality Food, “It’s such great news that figures show footfall is up across retail in general, and hopefully farm retailers and farmer’s markets across the country have seen this increase.
“The figures seem to suggest that coastal and historic towns and high streets benefitted the most – most likely due to the fine weather drawing people out for a wander – and any farm shop with an open area where people can walk around in the sunshine will no doubt have seen an increase as a popular location for sunny days.
“Here at Yolk Farm, we had our festival of all things egg – Eggstreme Easter – on every day of the weekend and were busy across the event, shop and restaurant on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday, but quiet on Easter Sunday when the weather was colder and the sun didn’t come out to play. The figures this weekend really show the power of good British weather to change customers’ behaviour and spending habits, and we are looking forward to a good summer if the weather will hold out!”
With summer fast approaching, independent retailers should take a sigh of relief that better days are ahead. In fact, as Jeff added, “We also have other big events on the horizon such as the King’s Coronation which will again put a smile on the faces of worried retailers.”
Reasons to be cautious
However, the current climate is still a difficult one to navigate, and retailers will need support to get through the year.
Martin McTague, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), explained, “While these Easter footfall figures give some hope in terms of consumer confidence, high street and town centre businesses are still far from out of the woods of the cost of doing business crisis.
“The combination of high taxes, the pulling back of support on energy bills, stubbornly high inflation and difficulties finding staff are all taking their toll.
“As things stand, they’re still being held back from growth, and there is evidence of consumers holding back from fine food, luxury retail and high-end hospitality as people tighten their belts and head for lower-price options.”
Jeff agreed, “Major cost pressure in retail remains and as we are likely to see high inflation figures for UK consumers continue, retail still requires the government to minimise regulatory burdens on retailers in the short term.
“As wage costs in the retail sector increase again from April, with the increase in minimum wage levels coupled with changes in business energy relief we should be welcoming the recent footfall increases but need to see prolonged increases before retail starts feeling confident again.”
Indeed, Charlotte Thomason, head of policy at Enterprise Nation, told Speciality Food, “While it’s tempting to think things are looking better, small businesses aren’t out of the woods yet. In true British style we’re back to rain and wind after only a short reprise. We must therefore continue to champion our local small businesses, support our high streets and farmer’s markets, and continue to think small when it comes to buying from businesses.
“It’s also important for small high street food firms to think about the months ahead and leverage technology including social media to ensure consumers, who might be shopping around to juggle tightening budgets, are aware of what their business has to offer.”
Expressing hope for the months ahead, Martin concluded, “An Easter bounce in footfall is positive, but we are yet to see the extent to which that created a bounce in spending and whether any increase was broadly spread across the sector. As people watch the pennies more closely, however, we’re optimistic that growing numbers will increasingly recognise the quality and value smaller, independent businesses offer, including those in the fine food sector.”