The Synovate Retail Traffic Index (RTI) figures for June reveal that UK shopper numbers fell just marginally (by 0.1%) against June last year and that shops in June were 3.7% busier than in May.
Looking at the longer term picture, the index value for Quarter Two 2009 stood only 0.3% down on the same quarter of 2008, a far stronger comparator than in either Quarter 1 (-2.6%) or Quarter 4 2008 (-3.3%).
Synovate retail psychologist Dr Tim Denison explains, "We continue to watch these monthly 'will-o'-the-wisp' conditions unfold. There seems almost no rhyme nor reason for the swings in retail statistics; the state of demand is both fluky and fragile. After a dreadfully quiet May, June was considerably better; the number of non-food shopping trips was almost on a par with last year, making it the second best month of the year so far.
"The progressive strengthening of the quarterly figures also makes good reading for those looking for genuine indications of recovery, but this is more a reflection of easing conditions than a sign of true strength. Retail footfall is improved over the earlier part of the year, but the trend remains unstable and vulnerable. Whilst the downturn seems to have flattened off, we are now stuck sub-par, bouncing along the bottom of the downturn, awaiting first sign indications on which letter of the alphabet will prevail - the deep V, 'double dipper' W or the longer term U recession.
"As yet there is no sight of any significant feel-good catalyst. Until then, and without the return of sustained job security and personal income growth, you can't blame consumers for being more pre-disposed to save rather than to spend.
"On a positive note, our data serves to confirm that things are not getting any worse in retailing. The promise of good weather, the weakness of sterling and cheaper petrol prices have bolstered holiday-making in Britain this summer by an estimated 20-30%, which spells good news for UK retailers. Our footfall figures for June reflect this. Certainly the last three weeks of good weather have bolstered the number of shopping trips being made.
"But one has a sense that the current factors that are shaping the monthly figures are playing at the fringes rather than taking lead roles. They alone will not unlock the subdued state of shopping. Half way through 2009, on an improving wicket, we can only wonder if the twists and turns ahead will be as difficult to read and to play. I suspect they will be."