UNITED KINGDOM - The Synovate Retail Traffic Index (RTI) figures for May 2009 show that April's upturn in both UK shopper numbers and retail sales simply marked a temporary respite and that foot flow into non-food shops has not yet reached stasis. April had recorded the strongest year-on-year rise in retail footfall for over 5 years (since February 2004), but in May the numbers slumped by 5.1% against the same month a year ago. Retail footfall levels were also down by 3.1% in May against April 2009.
Synovate retail psychologist Dr Tim Denison explains, "Over the last two months, the latest bugbear to have hit high street retailers is 'shopper unpredictability'. The first quarter was understandably subdued, but expectedly so. Consumer confidence was crushed and this reflected harshly both on retail sales and footfall. April, however, was better than any of us could have wished for; it was certainly far busier than we had forecast. Optimists might have seen the start of quarter two as the beginning of 'the turn'. Unfortunately, our latest data would suggest that any such call is premature. The volatility in our footfall figures and retail sales figures reflects the fragility of people's 'feel good' mood swings and their preparedness to go out and spend on the high street.
"For retailers, the current consumer state presents new challenges. Should they continue to develop and run even more creative one-off promotions, stimulating demand, but sacrificing margin, or should they look to shore up and back 'the new retail reality' of every day low prices. It seems to me that the way forward in the short-term is about 'catching the imagination'; whether that is through impactful promotions or must-have products. There is still an opportunity for retailers to generate 'desire', particularly as the heady days of summer approach.
"There is also considerable trust being placed by retailers in the 'stay at home' or 'staycation' phenomenon and it's likely that retailers in or near traditional UK-based tourist resorts will see good uplifts, particularly those that cater for holiday essentials such as barbecue and other holiday food for campers, caravaners and self-caterers; cosmetics and healthcare such as sun creams, sunglasses and insect repellents; summer fashions particularly childrenswear, as adults may well 'make do'; and 'treats' such as ice cream, soft drinks and alcohol such as bags of ice sold alongside refreshing ciders and pre-chilled sparkling wines. Car accessories such as roof boxes and camping gear are expected to do well too. Those that don't even leave home may well invest in garden furniture, gazebos, free-standing pools and barbecues, but value will be key. Making do and being satisfied with your lot is increasingly acceptable in our transforming society it seems."