Shopper footfall across the UK continued to improve in March as many consumers enjoyed their first full month free of COVID-19 restrictions, new figures show.
All COVID-19 restrictions in England and Northern Ireland were scrapped in February. Restrictions in Scotland and Wales have also been scaled down significantly.
In March, all UK shopping locations enjoyed higher footfall levels than earlier in the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, according to figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and retail consultancy Sensormatic IQ.
Though total UK footfall was down 15.4 percent in March from three years previously, it saw a 1.2 percentage point improvement from February.
Footfall on high streets was 17.8 percent lower in March than three years ago, but it was 3.1 percentage points better than that of February.
BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson said: “March saw another gradual improvement to footfall levels across the UK. As the first full month without coronavirus restrictions in England and Northern Ireland, consumers were able to shop with a greater sense of normality, spurred on by some spring sunshine.”
She said that shopping centres saw a particularly significant improvement, where footfall was 4.3 percentage points higher than in the preceding month, as shoppers browsed multiple stores in preparation for the summer season.
But Dickinson warned that there are “many challenges on the horizon” as consumer confidence fell to its lowest levels in 16 months.
She predicted that there will be “a difficult road ahead for consumers” as they feel the effects of rising living costs, increased food and fuel prices, and higher energy prices.
Meanwhile, figures from business advisory firm BDO also show the retail sector recording its 13th consecutive month of positive like-for-like sales.
Sophie Michael, BDO head of retail and wholesale, said: “Our results in March have highlighted that consumer spending remains high despite impending increases to the cost of living this month.”
But she warned that there are “concerning signs that some of this spending is being supported by record levels of household borrowing, which has increased lately even as consumer confidence plummets.”
“There may be good reason to expect some pull-back in discretionary spending over coming months, though the impact will inevitably vary across different areas of retail,” she said.
Last month, data company Kantar revealed that grocery price inflation in the UK had hit its highest level in 10 years, with the cost of groceries now 5.2 percent higher than it was a year ago.
UK consumers have also been hit hard by the acute energy crisis that has been going on since last year, which has led to a 50 percent increase in household energy bills.
PA Media contributed to this report.