A rise in UK retail footfall in May provided some rare good news for the embattled sector, as the best monthly high street performance for three years outweighed a decline for shopping centres.
Total footfall last month was 0.3% higher than the same month last year, according to BRC-Springboard data, much stronger than the 2.4% decline endured in April and well above the three-month average rate of -1.7%.
The figures showed footfall increased 4.7% in the first week of the month thanks to the May Day bank holiday weekend, before dropping by an average of 1.1% in the remaining three weeks.
Analysts said the data should support the shares
of de-rated clothing retailers as well as UK supermarkets and pubs with food offering.
The high street was the biggest beneficiary of the better weather, with footfall up 1.2%, a major reverse from the 4.7% slide the month before and the best performance on the high street since July 2013, excluding Easter distortions.
Shopping centres saw a 2.1% dip during the month, following a smaller decline the previous month, while footfall in retail parks continued to bounce, rising 1.2% after a 1.1% gain in April after a largely downward trajectory since January.
While the data indicated some respite from the sector's downward trend, British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said things were not altogether rosy.
"We know from our recent data that it's online, rather than stores, that has driven May's sales upturn. Footfall up and store sales down gives credence to the trend of an increasing use of the high street for leisure activities and the researching of purchases made online either later or on the move through mobile devices."
The BRC-Springboard footfall monitor records over 120m footfall counts per week at over 1,492 locations in 411 different shopping sites in 254 towns and cities across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Diane Wehrle at Springboard added that while the overall rise came in sharp contrast to the February to April decline of 2.1%, it did not necessarily mark the start of a positive trend yet.
"The figures show the month's footfall increase emanated from a 4.7% rise in the first week of the month stimulated by the May bank holiday weekend. For the rest of the month, footfall dropped by an average of 1.1% in the remaining three weeks.
"Even in retail parks, the destination type with the most consistent long term increase in activity, footfall rose in the first two weeks of the month by an average of 2.9% compared with a drop of 0.5% over the second half. Our time of day data shows us that the "golden hours" of 5pm to 8pm are delivering the best footfall for UK high streets."
Analyst Clive Black at Shore Capital said: "We see this data supporting the equities of de-rated apparel retailers as well as UK supermarkets and public houses with food."
He suspected clothes sellers enjoyed a strong pick up in latent demand for seasonal garments.
"We note that the BRC-Springboard speak of a now quite sustained downward trajectory in retail park footfall in 2016, something that we will keep an eye on - the first question this leads us to ask is with online non-food penetration in the UK in excess of 21%, is this starting to impact retail parks, which are arguably more conveniently located for many shoppers?" he wondered.