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UK footfall declines in September as consumers “tighten purse strings” ahead of Christmas

Tom Bottomley
05 October 2023

Footfall across all UK retail destinations dropped 2.8% in the four weeks from 27 August - 30 September 2023, versus a rise of 0.2% over the previous month, as consumers "exercise caution" ahead of the Christmas season.

Shopping centres saw the biggest decline in footfall of 3.7%, followed by high streets at 3.2% and retail parks at 1%, according to the latest monthly report from retail intelligence experts MRI Software (formerly MRI Springboard).

The data follows a historical trend whereby footfall typically drops from August to September, as observed in the decade leading up to 2019.

Other key findings include:

  • Footfall across UK retail destinations rose annually by 1.6% in September versus 1.9% in August and 2.1% in July. In high streets, footfall in September was just 1.4% higher than 2022, 1.5% higher in shopping centres, and 2.2% higher in retail parks.
  • Weekday footfall declined by 4.5% in September versus a rise of 2.7% in August, however footfall during the weekend period rose by 4.6% versus a decline of 3.8% in the month before, indicating the reopening of schools following the summer holidays and people returning to offices.
  • The gap from the pre-pandemic footfall level narrowed marginally to -10.9% in September from -11% in August driven by an improvement in high streets to -12.8%, but there was a deterioration in shopping centres and retail parks as the gap widened to -15.2% and -2.3% respectively.

James Massey, Managing Director, OnLocation for Footfall Analytics, MRI Software, said: "The decline in footfall for September compared to the previous month was particularly noticeable in high streets and shopping centres, where footfall dropped by 3.2% and 3.7% respectively, whereas retail parks saw a more modest decline of 1%.

"This could be a sign of shoppers continuing to exercise caution in the face of rising interest rates and the burden of the cost of living, which is undoubtedly impacting their spending power especially as we start to prepare for the Christmas season.

"Looking ahead, the declining trend in footfall across UK retail destinations is likely to continue into October as the start of the month will be met with rail disruption in the form of planned strikes and overtime bans, which will impact businesses and retail destinations with people less likely to travel and opting to work from home where they can.

"Previously MRI Software’s footfall data has identified a drop in footfall on strike days of between 8% and 20%, and given the widespread nature of the planned strike in the first week of October the drop in footfall could steer towards the upper range."

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