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Retail destinations remain resilient as footfall rises 3.3% in 2023

Tom Bottomley
17 January 2024

Footfall across all UK retail destinations jumped 3.3% across 2023 compared to 2022, with the gap to 2019 pre-pandemic levels narrowing from -14.2% to -11.5%.

That’s according to MRI Software’s ‘The Year that Was 2023’ Retail Outlook Report, which also notes that 2023 was "a testing time for high streets" with footfall proving "volatile".

Last year also marked a significant shift in the economic landscape, as it was the first full trading year which can be compared against another post-pandemic year.

However, the aftermath of the pandemic bought with it the cost-of-living crisis. Rising interest rates and escalating household bills placed considerable strain on consumers and the retail sector.

As economic growth slowed, the retail sector teetered on the brink of recession, resulting in restricted consumer spending and shifts in behaviour.

In addition to that, the UK faced additional challenges, with high streets bearing the brunt of seven storms in the space of four months (September to December) and ongoing rail strikes, experiencing three consecutive months of declining footfall from September to November.

Week-on-week footfall actually declined across 26 weeks over the year in high streets, however, there were crucial moments for high street retailers with the Easter break (+17%), October half term (+10.5%) and Black Friday (+10%) providing significant boosts.

Other key findings include:

  • Hybrid working is here to stay as MRI Software’s UK Consumer Pulse report identifies an average of 60% of consumers worked at home for at least part of the week in 2023.
  • Footfall capture rates from street to in-store dipped in 2023 to 8.5% from 9.1% in 2022.
  • There’s optimism among consumers as falling inflation rates ease the cost-of-living crisis, but shoppers still face personal finance constraints with 84% choosing to shop for cheaper brands when it comes to essentials.
  • As footfall strengthened year-on-year in UK retail destinations, online spending remained fairly stable from January to November 2023, accounting for just over a quarter of total retail sales, when compared against the same period in 2022, according to figures from the ONS.

Jenni Matthews, Marketing and Insights Director at MRI Software, said: "As we look ahead to 2024, consumer behaviour continues to be shaped by many factors including hybrid working and inflation, which makes it a challenging time for the retail sector as they grapple with these adjustments.

"2023 closed on a positive note with inflation sitting much lower than at the beginning of the year, and consumer confidence improving by over half - setting the stage for a hopeful beginning to 2024.

"Despite signs of improvement, the UK economy remains in a delicate position. While inflation has slowed, prices are still higher than what consumers would prefer. This will continue to impact spending power, however, should this remain stable we anticipate recovery as the year progresses with consumers gaining confidence in their financial situation and spending ability.

"International conflicts add another layer of complexity, likely to disrupt stock availability due to delays in products arriving from overseas."

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