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Shopping visits see 'unprecedented' decline

By John-Paul Ford Rojas, Business Reporter
Visits to Britain's shops saw an "unprecedented" decline in the last two months - worse even than at the height of the financial crisis - new figures show.
Footfall was down by 3.3% in April compared with last year following a 6% drop in March, resulting in a slump of 4.8% over the two periods combined, says the report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
That was worse than the 3.8% decline seen over March and April 2009, according to data company Springboard, which compiled the figures.Separate figures from Visa also painted a gloomy picture, showing overall consumer spending down 2% in April - failing to recover at all from its performance in March despite an upturn in pay growth and an improvement in the weather.Retailers have been struggling amid a squeeze on household finances as wages have struggled to keep pace with inflation, while the freezing weather earlier in the year has also taken its toll.Toys R Us and Maplin have been among the casualties of the bleak conditions on the high street, while in latest developments, Sky News revealed over the weekend that discounter Poundworld was to be put up for sale.Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: "Not since the depths of recession in 2009 has footfall over March and April declined to such a degree, and even then the drop was less severe."BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said the wet start to April had a "dampening effect" on footfall.This added to the long-term downward trend in footfall being caused by "changing consumer behaviour" which includes the shift towards online shopping.
The Visa figures - which include money spent on going out to cinemas and restaurants as well as retail spending - also painted a dismal picture.Visa chief commercial officer Mark Antipof said: "With inflation beginning to fail and wages growing faster than expected in recent months, it would have been easy to assume we might be over the worst of the consumer squeeze."Yet there has been no corresponding improvement in spending, with April's 2% decline a simple repeat of what we witnessed in March."Low confidence levels amongst shoppers and the gloomy outlook for the UK economy are likely to have contributed to this continued caution."It is clear that consumers remain in belt-tightening mode, with discretionary spending on furniture, electrical appliances and recreational activities worst hit."
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Elsewhere, however there was a glimmer of hope for the UK consumer outlook as figures from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed employers planned to offer bigger pay rises to staff over the next year than they expected three months ago.That reflected faster pay growth in the public sector as well as more general demand for staff.
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