Easter fails to resurrect fortunes of high street

Shoppers are being more cautious despite the milder weather

The Easter break failed to boost high street retailers as expected, new figures published today have revealed.

Springboard’s footfall figures for April, published in conjunction with the British Retail Consortium, showed that despite the Easter bank holiday weekend, footfall still dropped by 0.1 per cent overall on a year ago, down on the  1.8 per cent rise in March.

London’s stores were even worse hit, posting a 3.4 per cent footfall decline over the year.

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said: “The drop is disappointing, particularly as the month included the whole of Easter bank holiday period and benefited from mild weather, which tends to support activity in retail destinations.”

But she pointed out that in out-of-town locations footfall continued to increase with a rise of 4 per cent, the fourth successive month footfall in retail parks has increased.

“The disparity in performance between urban and out-of-town locations is in part due to rising house prices, which tends to make consumers more enthusiastic about investing in home products, the greatest choice of which is found in retail parks,” she said.

“Indeed, this reflects sales in April which rose by 5.7 per cent, with furniture and floor coverings being the best-performing category and reporting the highest growth since April 2006.”

The footfall drop suggests a new cautiousness among consumers. But despite that, vacancy rates have dropped slightly over the past three months, from 11 per cent  to 10.6 per cent, which suggests retailers are starting to take space in anticipation of an upturn in consumer demand.

Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium director general, said: “The decline in the vacancy rate is heartening – however every tenth shop still remains unoccupied.

“This reinforces the need for an overhaul of the business rates system, which would increase retailers’ confidence about investing in property, create more jobs and help to revive high streets.”

Meanwhile confectionary chain Hotel Chocolat has announced plans to raise £10m of development capital through a bond issue, which will reward investors with either a monthly chocolate box or money towards the firm’s goods.

It last went cap in hand to investors in 2010 to raise £4.2m, which it used to expand its factory in Cambridgeshire and develop an eco-factory at Rabot Estate, the company’s cocoa plantation in Saint Lucia.

The new cash raised will be used to increase manufacturing capabilities and its UK Cocoa Bar-Cafes, chocolate boutiques and restaurants.

It also plans to use the cash to fund international expansion and develop its St Lucia operation. 

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