The number of empty shops fell slightly last year – but the figure masks huge differences in the fates of shopping hubs across Great Britain.
Published today, The Local Data Company’s More Clicks, Less Bricks survey, which monitored vacant premises in almost 2,000 retail centres in England, Wales and Scotland in 2012, reveals a widening gap in the performance of town centres, shopping centres and retail parks.
And with the internet driving growth for most retailers, LDC predicts that fewer shops will be required in the future and that this divergence will continue to grow.
The number of shop vacancies dipped from 14.3% to 14.2% in 2012. However, while decreases were seen in London, the East Midlands and Yorkshire & The Humber, vacancies in all other regions went up, with the West Midlands seeing the largest rise. There are now 35,516 vacant units in total.
Wales, with 18% vacancy, is the worst-performing country, followed by Scotland (15.5%) and then England (13.9%).
The report also shows that, nationally, shopping centres have the highest vacancies at 15.6%. Large high street centres have 13.7% and medium high street centres 11.7%, while small high street centres are more resilient, with just 9.2% of units empty. Retail parks have just 8.8%.
The LDC also looks in more detail at the performance of individual towns and cities by size. The worst performing large centre (defined as 400-plus shops) at the end of 2012 was Stockport, with a vacancy rate of 28.3%, closely followed by Walsall at 28%. In fact, the top 25 worst performers are dominated by centres in the Midlands and north.
The best large centre was Cambridge, with only 6% of empty units, followed by Kingston-on-Thames, with 6.8%.
Of the medium-size centres (200 to 399 shops) Dudley in the West Midlands had the highest shop vacancy rate, 32.4% – some way above Newport, South Wales in second place with 29.8% and Hartlepool with 28.9%. And, again, this list is populated mainly from the Midlands and north.
At the other end of the scale, only 3.8% of East Ham’s shops were empty, while Canary Wharf came in second on the list of top medium-size centres, with 4.3%.
The worst shop vacancy performance amongst the small centres (50 to 199 shops) was Morecambe, West End with a figure of 34.3%, while Eccles was little better, with 33%. In the south, 30.8% of Margate’s shops remain empty, despite an improvement during the year.
Meanwhile, within the same small-centre category, Chalfont St Peter achieved the ultimate score of 0%, having no empty shops at all. In Newquay only 0.6% were vacant and in Thame just 0.8%.
LDC director Matthew Hopkinson said the figures show “increasing polarisation of performance between town centres, shopping centres and retail parks in every part of the country.
“Online is driving growth for a majority of retailers, and so 2013 is all about the supporting role that shops will have as ‘customer experience’ centres and showrooms as much as transactions through their tills. Inevitably this means fewer shops will be required…and as such one can expect this divergence in performance to grow. Secondary shopping centres are coming to the fore in this respect.
“The big unknown is how technology will continue to channel and mould consumer spending habits and to what effect. The pressure between online and rising costs of running a shop on the high street due to rents, rates and parking charges, is likely to become an increasingly hot topic.”