Retailers suffered a grim bank holiday despite the mostly sunny weather on what are traditionally some of the strongest selling days of the year.
Industry figures out last night cast doubt in some economists’ minds over the strength of the recovery, particularly given that the weak trading days this year were up against low comparatives in the chilly Easter of last year.
The average number of shoppers on Good Friday measured by what is known in the industry as “footfall” by the Springboard monitoring company, was down 7.6 per cent on Good Friday and 8.7 per cent on Saturday.
A strong pick-up yesterday was not expected to offset the poor performance of the first two days, Springboard said. Director Diane Wehrle said: “While the overriding economic indicators are positive, consumer confidence up, unemployment down, inflation down, it is clearly not translating to people’s spending habits. Consumers are very nervous.”
The poor figures will be met with dismay by the Conservative party which has been pinning its election hopes for next year on a “feel good factor” for voters with rising living standards. Last week’s economic data showed wages were finally rising faster than prices, while the Centre for Economics and Business Research yesterday predicted that added spending power would continue to increase in the coming months.
However, Ms Wehrle said retail footfall contradicts such a view: “People are holding off and not spending. They’re seeing higher gas and electricity bills, petrol prices and everything else. They are feeling squeezed. Families in particular are more cautious than they ever used to be.”
Those who are spending have been heading for the budget shops at the expense of many mainstream middle market chains. Primark is this week expected to report sales up 13 per cent over the past year, in stark contrast to Debenhams, which recently said the high street would remain tough this year. Marks and Spencer and Tesco have also been struggling to win more trade from their mid-market shoppers as people have either traded down to the discounters or sought more exclusive brands at the other extreme.
London’s west end, with its wealthy clientele and strong tourist trade, continued to buck the rest of the country’s retail trend.
The New West End Company, which represents 600 retailers on Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, reported that retail sales – the more concrete measure of takings rather than footfall – were up 2.4 per cent last month, according to figures out yesterday, with early indications being of another strong Easter weekend there.
Shoppers traditionally head to the West End over the four day Easter weekend to stock up on the new season’s fashion and homeware ranges. Springboard’s figures, regularly used by the British Retail Consortium and City analysts, showed shopping centres were particularly hard hit on Good Friday and Saturday, down 8.4 per cent and 10.7 per cent, respectively.