CACI, experts in consumer and location planning, have analysed the changing relationship between people and place, highlighting how and why a national footfall reduction at retail environments is happening, but still leading to rising spend.

According to CACI data, since 2019, vendors across the UK have experienced an overall 11.5% drop in footfall. Visit frequency change has been a major driver of this, dropping by 31% over the last five years. However, the amount spent by consumers during these fewer visits has climbed 29% in the same period, which is higher than inflation growth, highlighting a key shift in consumer shopping behaviours.

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The reasons for this change in behaviour are found in CACI’s Shopper Dimensions, a dataset that tracks trends across more than 150 retail and leisure venues. ‘Big day out’ missions are becoming the more engaging trips for consumers, and while they may be less frequent, they combine the total experience across retail, leisure, and F&B, and deliver 2.4 times the spend of an average trip. ‘Big day out’ missions grew from 15% in 2019 to 23% of all shopper missions in 2023, while ‘routine top-up trips’ – which offer less than half the spend of an average trip – dropped from 23% to 14%.

The Shopper Dimensions data also aligns with a consumer survey conducted by CACI in May, examining where people are visiting for different trip types, and the Centre Dynamics dataset, which evaluates how tenant line-ups have changed at more than 6,000 locations across the country. The two location classes that appeal most for a ‘big day out,’ according to the survey, have been the most likely to increase their F&B and leisure provision in recent years. 100% of the UK’s regional malls and 96% of city centres now have more F&B (64% and 72% for leisure respectively), and as a consequence, each attracts more than 30% of all ‘big day out’ trips.

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Tolga Necar, Principal Consultant at CACI, said: “Consumer behaviours have shifted, especially when it comes to retail. We know from our Voice of the Nation survey and Shopper Dimensions that where, when, and why people visit a place is changing, with those ‘big day out’ trips becoming more valuable and engaging. Landlords are clearly seeing it too, given the rebalance towards more leisure and F&B we’re seeing in destinations up and down the country. A lot of weight, however, is still given to footfall figures to determine long-term, commercial success.

“Our data shows that a decline in footfall is not equating to a decline in spending. In fact, the less frequent visits are the ones we should be paying more attention to. It is time to leave pre-pandemic comparisons behind, and the evolution of consumer behaviour demonstrates that destinations are now more valuable than ever. Creating engaging places that effectively convert visits into turnover is so much more important than the footfall number itself in this new shopper landscape.”

This news follows a recent announcement from CACI that revealed the growth potential within the travel sector this year. Through its latest consumer survey, CACI found a major increase in the number of people intending to travel, with 40% of the UK’s holidaymakers aiming to spend more on holidays compared to last year, a trend already being reflected across travel-oriented brands and major UK shopping destination performance.