A clustering study to verify four distinct monthly footfall signatures: a classification for UK retail centres

This resource presents findings from the Bringing Big Data to Small Users Project, conducted by the Institute of Place Management, alongside Cardiff University, Springboard, MyKnowledgeMap, and seven UK towns. Based on analysis of over 10-years of footfall data across over 100 UK retail centres, the research found four distinct ‘footfall signatures’ that classify centres by activity levels. These footfall signatures are explained in this report.

Date added 18 June 2020
Last updated 1 July 2020

Footfall is a key indicator of high street and town centre vitality and viability. It enables place stakeholders to underpin their place interventions with objective evidence, and to monitor the effectiveness of these. However, not all places currently record and monitor footfall data. This resource presents the four annual ‘footfall signatures’ identified in the Bringing Big Data to Small Users Project (BDSU), conducted by the Institute of Place Management, alongside Cardiff University, Springboard, and MyKnowledgeMap, and refined over time with stakeholders from seven UK towns. Knowing which type of centre you are helps to determine the place interventions that will be the most effective. It was traditionally assumed that most centres show an increase in footfall in December during the pre-Christmas period, and that this is the busiest time of year. This research, however, demonstrated how this is not true of all centres, challenging existing retail hierarchies. Based on a statistical analysis (K-Means clustering) of over 10-years of footfall data across over 100 retail centres provided by intelligence experts Springboard, the research found four distinct annual ‘footfall signatures’ that classify centres by activity levels, and how footfall varies over the months of the year.

The four identified footfall signatures:

Comparison towns

These are the more traditional shopping centres, typically located in larger town and city centres. They are characterised by a footfall peak in December, coinciding with the Christmas preparation period.

Holiday towns

These are visited mainly by tourists for a holiday or a ‘day out’. They do not ordinarily concentrate on serving the local catchment, instead focusing on providing entertainment and leisure. They are busiest in the summer and when the weather is good.

Speciality towns

These attract tourists but also serve the local population. Like holiday towns they are busiest in the summer months, but also show a (smaller) second footfall peak in December, indicating a ‘hybrid’ type between holiday and comparison towns.

Multifunctional towns

These are a diverse group, coming in many shapes and sizes, and serve a variety of everyday needs, such as convenience shopping, leisure, and employment. They are characterised by a flat footfall profile throughout the months of the year.

To read more about the BDSU project and footfall signatures, the researchers have also published the findings in an academic journal article which features in another Task Force resource.

You can also read more about the importance of footfall as a performance indicator in this related High Streets Task Force resource.