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Looming election and dull skies keep shoppers out of stores over Easter, but online benefits

It all started off with some promising predictions of increased footfall but for retailers in the UK, Easter turned out to be something of a disappointment, despite a few bright spots.

Uncertainty around who will be in government after next month’s general election met poor weather head-on and dealt a surprisingly hefty blow to UK retailers’ Easter public holiday weekend, which stretched from Friday to Monday. The expectations proved wildly optimistic as visits to the high street and shopping centres slumped, according to figures released Monday by data company Springboard.

The weather may have brightened on Sunday and Monday but many people used the time to get into the garden or go out for the day, rather than shopping.

So what about those bright spots? Retail parks saw better-than-forecast footfall, benefitting from the bad weather, and there were early indications that online sales also jumped. And figures from data firm Postcode Anywhere showed an 11% rise in online transactions on Good Friday.

Springboard said that overall retail footfall fell 2% between Good Friday and midday Monday, compared with Easter a year ago, citing possible anxiety ahead of the general election in early May that could be keeping consumers away from the high street.

High streets saw the biggest decline in shopper numbers, down 4.7% over the holiday weekend after a 10% dip on Good Friday, when it rained across most of the UK. Shopping centre footfall, meanwhile, dipped 0.3%. However, retail parks benefitted from the rain with footfall up 2.7% over the three days.

Retailers had been expecting consumers to splash out thanks to an earlier than usual Easter falling closer to the March payday and improving economic conditions. Last week the fashion, electronics and household goods industries were anticipating a bumper shopping spell, with Springboard forecasting an almost 5% increase in footfall compared with last Easter.

“Consumers have been more cautious than we anticipated this Easter, possibly due to uncertainty with the upcoming election, and combined with the gloomy weather this has had an impact on footfall over the weekend, particularly for UK high streets,” said Diane Wehrle, lead analyst at Springboard.

Wehrle also noted: “The rise of online has definitely played a role in footfall this Easter. Traditional key shopping periods are decreasing in importance as the opportunities online stores and click-&-collect offer, leave shoppers no longer feeling the need to rush out.”

But industry watchers aren’t particularly gloomy. Chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight told the City AM newspaper that sales have been “pretty healthy” for an extended period: “It could well be that as uncertainty over the general election comes ever more to the forefront that some people are more cautious in their spending, but the fundamentals still look pretty bright for the consumer over the coming months with improving purchasing power and rising employment,” he said.

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