UK retail footfall continues decline in January

Total footfall in the UK dropped 1.6 per cent year-on-year this January, a deeper rate of annual decline than in January 2017 (1.3 per cent), new BRC-Springboard figures have found.

All regions across the UK experienced a drop in retail footfall in January, with the sharpest decrease seen in Scotland (-4.6 per cent), the South West (-2.6 per cent), and the East (-2.5 per cent). Footfall in Greater London was down 1.2 per cent, compared with December’s decrease of 3.7 per cent.

High Street footfall fell by 1.9 per cent in January, marking a deeper decline than seen in January 2017 (-0.8 per cent). This was also below the three-month average of -2.1 per cent. Shopping centre footfall dropped 3.1 per cent, below the three month average of 2.8 per cent.

Conversely, retail parks saw a rise in footfall of 0.9 per cent in January, above the three-month average of 0.2 per cent. The South East and the West Midlands saw strong growth here, at 4.0 per cent and 3.3 per cent respectively.

The national town centre vacancy rate was 8.9 per cent in January 2018, down from 9.3 per cent in October 2017. The study attributes this to reduced vacancy rates in Greater London, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “January painted a picture of divided fortunes with a slight improvement in town vacancy rates but decline in shopper footfall. The latter fell in line with the underlying trend of reduced customer activity in shopping destinations, compounded by the squeeze on discretionary spending. Meanwhile retail sales continue to be buoyed by inflation, masking the lack of real growth.

“The more positive picture for vacancy rates over the last quarter is marginal,” she continued. “The Christmas trading period traditionally sees a boost in temporary lets, as landlords get creative with the flexible use of space to create pop-ups. This was particularly evident in London this year due to its denser physical retail offer. The long-term trend is that vacancies remain stubbornly at around 9 per cent, albeit much higher in many areas.”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, added: “Retail parks clearly now fulfil a wider role for shoppers; yes, they are convenient and functional shopping locations, but are buoyed by the continuing growth in online spending. Not only are they efficient Click and Collect points, but their attraction is enhanced by a wider offer, embracing hospitality.

“Herein lies the lesson for stores in urban locations of High Streets and shopping centres; their longevity is contingent upon their ability to embrace all steps of consumers’ path to purchase, which implicitly necessitates a first-class Click and Collect experience.”

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