Latest figures from Ipsos Retail Performance showed that British retail had cause for quiet satisfaction last month. Ipsos' Retail Traffic Index (RTI), which monitors the volume of shoppers in non-food stores across the UK, recorded a narrowing gap between this year and last. In August 2012, year-on-year figures were only 1.1% down for the country as a whole, much the best comparison of the year and far healthier than the 5.1% year-to-date deficit. Figures for August against July showed a slight decline of -0.8%.
Dr Tim Denison, Head of Retail Intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance, says: "August has been another one of those event-filled months of this year, making it difficult to draw out meaningful trends. As a standalone month, traffic was pretty strong, and retailers can be thankful for that, but, in itself, it doesn't provide any great steer on the direction that the nation's shopping activity is heading. The general circumstances impacting households remain largely unchanged, but data on the broader economy is presenting conflicting messages. Inflation has been dropping, but the worry ahead is that food, commodity and oil prices are set to surge again. It's a bit like sailing a dinghy in fluky conditions at the moment, unsure of whether the wind will propel you forward, cause you to capsize, or becalm you."
There were mixed opinions on the expected impact of the Olympic Games on retail sales and footfall, with concerns that the disruption to normal living and working patterns would keep shoppers away and that regular summer day-trippers would not venture into the capital during the Games. There was also the belief that while tourist figures would be very similar to any other summer, their interests in shopping would be substantially less. In contrast, others felt that the Games presented a great shop window for London retailers, in particular, to expose their goods to a new audience and reap some reward.
In the event, retail traffic in London and the South East, where most of the Olympic action took place, was more subdued than the national average. There, numbers over the month were 2.3% down on August 2011 and 4.6% down on July. Any year- on-year comparison with August 2011 is further complicated by the summer riots of 2011 that began in London and rapidly spread to other retail hubs such as Manchester and Birmingham.
Dr Denison says: "We saw such fluctuations in daily figures and between near-by locations that no definitive patterns prevailed over the fortnight. As you would expect, there were winners and losers, but the Games failed to have the across-the-board impact on retailing, positive or negative, that some had foreseen."
With the summer months behind us, attention is now firmly focused on September and the results of the back-to-school campaigns. Dr Denison comments: "UK retailing remains in a volatile and nervous state and any month that delivers ahead of run rate results at the moment will be greatly received. A steady September would secure an improved quarter for retail footfall and help counter the pessimism in the CBI's latest survey for Q3, which reported the weakest outlook since February 2009.