Covering the four weeks from September 3 to October 27, the BRC-Springboard footfall and vacancies monitor reveals that October was also the eleventh month of consecutive footfall decline.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE commented: “October showed another month reflecting the continued long-term decline in footfall. This trend is primarily driven by a move from in-store to online purchases. With retail becoming more digital, physical shopping locations are working to reinvent themselves as places that people go for days out rather than just for day-to-day purchases.”
Northern Ireland was the only region to record growth of 2.7%, with footfall growing by 4%. The East and East Midlands experienced the deepest footfall decreases of 6.1% and 4.8% respectively. Wales saw a deceleration in footfall decline, from -5.5% recorded in September to -2.3% in October.
High street footfall fell by 2.3%, while retail parks footfall slipped back after two months of positive growth to -0.2%. Shopping centre footfall decline deepened to 3.3% from 2.5% in September, marking 19 months of consecutive decline. No region experienced growth in this location.
Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle said: “If further evidence of the veracity of footfall as an indicator of retail trading performance were required, then it is provided by October’s result of -2%. Not only does it reflect the ongoing challenges that the retail sector is facing but, with the decline becoming larger in every month since June, it illustrates that the challenges for retailers have been increasing as we moved through the year.
“The rate of decline in October was a fifth greater than the -1.7% drop in September, demonstrating that consumer demand is continuing to weaken which, as we head into the key trading period of the year, suggests that Christmas could be challenging.”
The national town centre vacancy rate was 9.6% in October – an increase on a year ago when the rate was 9.3%. Most regions saw a deterioration in their town vacancy rate compared with the previous quarter. Greater London increased its vacancy rate by a whole percentage point from 4% in July to 5% in October, though it remains the region with the lowest vacancy rate in the UK. Northern Ireland saw the highest improvement, from 14.4% in July to 13.3% in October.
Helen said: “The vacancy rate is at a 15-month high, with many brands disappearing from the high street, and many more struggling under the cumulative burden of public policy costs. The Government’s recent Budget missed the opportunity to halt the rising cost business rates for firms employing the majority of the UK’s 3.1 million retail workers. With the rates multiplier now set to rise to over 50%, the Government should reflect on the impact it is having on our high streets and plan for a wholesale reform of our broken business rate system.”
Diane added: “While the UK vacancy rate has risen marginally to 9.6% from 9.2% in the last quarter, it still remains below 10% – as it has done in all but one quarter since July 2015. This is further evidence that the offer in bricks-and-mortar destinations is shifting to better accommodate continued consumer demand for experience-led visits.
“The catalyst was the growth in demand for hospitality and while this is continuing – despite the fact that the growth in eating out visits has slowed since the heady days of 2015 – it has opened up opportunities for the introduction of more diverse experience and leisure-led propositions in destinations that ultimately may well broaden the definition of retail.”