Retail footfall fell by 1.2% in January, as high streets and shopping centres continued to see a decline in the number of shoppers.
Statistics released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard in their monthly monitor show shopping centres experienced the biggest decline with footfall dropping 2.8%, while footfall in high streets slipped 1.6% (up on the 1.8% fall in December).
Footfall in out-of-town locations fared best with a 1.5% increase year-on-year. Wales reported the greatest fall in regional footfall, down 4.6% year-on-year. The national town centre vacancy rate in the UK was 10.4% in January, an increase from October’s rate of 10.3%.
BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: “It’s been heartening to see that footfall is up 1.5% on January last year for out-of-town retail destinations. This reflects strong consumer confidence – more of us are happier to splash out on big ticket items, particularly furniture, which we usually travel out of town to view and buy.
“January is traditionally strong for online sales and this year was no exception. This has undoubtedly impacted on footfall for high streets and shopping centres and is further evidence of the impact of our changing shopping habits.
“Retailers will be looking closely at these figures to help them harness the
growth of e-retailing to drive consumers to their bricks and mortar stores. Click-and-collect services are an excellent example of how this is happening right now and innovations in this area are set to continue for some time to come.
“Rising numbers of vacant shop units are still a cause for concern. We have welcomed the government’s pledge to review business rates on our recommendation. However, in order to make a real difference, the review will need to be wide in scope and seek radical solutions.
“Many local councils are working hard on initiatives to inspire high streets and shopping centres to flourish and the BRC continues to support this work. Spreading best practice – such as supporting pop-up shops, increasing digital connectivity and focusing on general town centre improvement – is crucial if we are to drive down a vacancy rate that remains stubbornly above 10%.”
Springboard retail insights director Diane Wehrle added: “The 1.2% drop in footfall across the UK in January is a stark contrast to the 1.6% increase in January 2014, and this contrast is heightened further by the fact that it also comes in the face of a modest increase in retail sales in out-of-town locations, whilst declining in both high streets and shopping centres.
“So while high streets and shopping centres still account for the majority of our shopping floorspace, the on-going strengthening of out-of-town locations is clear evidence that our urban shopping locations are losing market share. Without doubt, this is due to both the challenge of the internet and the convenience of out-of-town locations for click-and-collect as they offer plentiful, accessible parking that is free of charge.
“Despite this, it’s good news that the vacancy rate has increased only slightly, to 10.4%, although the number of retail leases that are due to expire over this year suggests this could rise further over the coming months – particularly as consumers are now demanding discounts, which squeeze margins and adversely impact profitability and long term business sustainability.”