“The future ain’t what it used to be” (attr. Yogi Berra)

I always keep an eye out for Springboard’s retail footfall figures. For those unfamiliar with the retail intelligence specialist’s methods, they use sophisticated technology and proprietary benchmarking data sets to give an up-to-the-moment view of the number of shoppers in and around the nation’s shopping centres. It’s a useful indicator, frequently foreshadowing other monthly readings on the health of the retail sector.

The latest numbers are out, and frankly, it’s more grim news. You can read more about the detail here, but the headlines are a continuation of a theme – city centres continue to suffer from office workers remaining at home and there are few signs of any imminent improvement. The Platinum Jubilee may have provided a fleeting fillip, but the last week of June saw an astonishing 19.5% decline against the pre-pandemic comparator (2019). And Springboard think it’s part of a longer 10-15% systemic decline. Discretionary spending is being hammered as the ‘squeezed middle’ cut back, and energy, grocery and fuel bills take up an increasing share of wallet. And with a predicted 65% increase in the energy price cap looming in October, there’s little hope of any short-term – or even medium-term relief.

So what should the beleaguered retailers of the UK be doing now? Well, in the absence of some sort of magic wand, the answer as always is prudent and careful cash management. Three early steps should be firstly talking to landlords to manage expectations and find some mutually beneficial medium-term arrangement over rents. Secondly, work even harder at clearing through past season stock for cash. And thirdly, look at situations where necessary to find protection through CVAs.

And – of course – it would be remiss of me not to make the point that it’s when the storm clouds look to be at their most menacing that this is the time to make sure you have expert and experienced heads around.