More shops but fewer shoppers on Britain’s high streets, BRC/Springboard Footfall Monitor reveals

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Footfall in July was 1.1% lower than a year ago, up from the 1.5% fall in June. This was slightly above the three-month average of -1.2%, according to the July BRC/Springboard Footfall Monitor.

Both High Streets and Shopping Centres reported a decline, falling 2.2% and 2.5% respectively.

Footfall in retail park locations fared the best with a 3.1% increase year-on-year, the highest figure since May 2014, excluding Easter distortions.

Two regions and countries reported footfall above the UK average, with Greater London the only region to report positive footfall growth.

The national town centre vacancy rate was 9.8% in July 2015, down from the 10.2% rate reported in April 2015. This is the lowest reported rate since we began reporting the data in July 2011.

Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium director general, said: “Today’s figures contain interesting news for the UK’s retail industry. The continued popularity of retail parks will cheer retailers who have invested in these locations – a footfall increase of 3.1 per cent is the highest we’ve seen since May 2014. The fall in shop vacancy rates to below 10 per cent for the first time since this monitor began will also be welcomed, albeit cautiously.

“For years, structural changes within retail have been challenging the role of the ‘traditional’ high street. Many high streets up and down the country have been working to meet these challenges by reshaping themselves (in some cases becoming smaller) and working hard to establish their own unique offer as well integrating it with a digital presence.  Despite this the vacancy rate has remained stubbornly high – the dip below ten per cent for the first time may be indicative of successful attempts to reshape Britain’s high streets in some locations.

“The clear note of caution though can be found in the footfall figures. No matter how successful high streets are in re-inventing themselves, if they can’t deliver increased footfall we could easily see vacancy rates climbing again. It’s worth noting that the footfall decline has slowed this month, but it still has a way to go. So today’s numbers seem to indicate that some British high streets are beginning to solve their space problem, but have yet to capitalise on this and drive up shopper numbers. This is a delicate balancing act and could easily be derailed. Reducing the burden of business rates would give high street operators the opportunity they need to allow more of them to finally flourish.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: The long term drop in footfall in our retail destinations appears to be settling at around 1.0 per cent in every month.  The latest national result of a drop of 1.1 per cent brings the average for the past 12 months to -1.0 per cent and to -0.8 per cent since January although all of the decline in footfall is in urban locations – high streets and shopping centres. In contrast, retail parks are recording a continuous uplift in activity (an average of +1.8 per cent per month over the last year), no doubt due to the fact that they are capitalising on the demands of shoppers for convenience, which is becoming the byword in the omni-channel trading environment.

“But two factors mitigate the adverse impact that this shift has on high streets and shopping centres; firstly, these urban locations generate over three quarters of all footfall nationally and so by their sheer critical mass will continue to remain the focus of retail activity; and, secondly, the diversity of occupiers in urban locations means they are better able to harness opportunities emerging through the growth in leisure and food and beverage spend.  The improvement in the vacancy rate for the second consecutive quarter to under 10 per cent is testament to this, and is positive news given that many retailers are taking the opportunity to rationalise their networks as leases come to an end.  However, there needs to be a note of caution as the improvement in the vacancy rate is not universal, with occupation continuing to drop in five areas across the UK.”