Numbers of shoppers fell across British high streets and shopping centres for a second month, an industry survey has found.

Total retail footfall in September was down 1.7% year-on-year, slightly worse that August's fall of 1.6%, according to a survey from the British Retail Consortium and Springboard.

High streets visits declined for the second month in a row, while shopping centres saw decreases for the 18th month in a row, while retail parks remained in growth but only just.

High street footfall decreased by 2.2%, with footfall down in all regions, with Wales and Northern Ireland seeing the deepest declines at 7.9% and 6.1%, respectively.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said it would be easy to blame the decline in shopper footfall on the shift to online spending, but the story is not nearly as cut and dried.

“With the growth in non-food online sales in September of +5.4% being the lowest since January and just half what it was in September 2017, combined with the highest level consumer credit for five years, a recent increase in inflation, a 20% drop in new car sales which is the worst since 2008, and the rise in house prices only a half what it was a year ago, all indicators point to the fact that footfall is simply reflecting the underlying constraints on consumer spend generally.”

In addition, she added that recent failures of high street chains are likely to have made consumers more cautious about committing to large purchases in a number of our leading high street brands, either online or in bricks and mortar stores.

“With all of these pressures, and the continued mild weather minimising the impetus to renew fashion items for autumn, at least some of the impact on footfall will be a consequence of consumers focussing on paying down debt and shoring up their finances in advance of the Christmas period,” she said.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said shoppers are “feeling the squeeze of increasing shop price inflation and little real wage growth”, with the figures a further demonstration of the “increasingly difficult operating environment British retailers are facing”.

Ahead of the autumn budget, she bemoaned that the country's largest private sector employer was “not seeing any action from government to help”, with the industry representing 5% of the economy and paying 10% of business tax and 25% of business rates.

“The system is skewed towards high taxes on people and property which is contributing to store closures and job losses, stalling the reinvention of our high streets. The government urgently needs to reduce the business rates burdens and create a tax system fit for the 21st century that more fairly distributes taxes right across the economy.”

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