BRC-Springboard: retail footfall figures ‘remain lacklustre’

Last month’s total UK retail footfall was 0.4% down on a year ago – but better than the 2.8% fall in June, according to the latest monitor from the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-Springboard.

Covering the four weeks from July 3 to July 30, the numbers reveal that high street footfall increased for the second time in three months, up 0.3% in July, which is better than the 3.7% drop in June. Footfall in retail park locations decreased for the second consecutive month, down 0.3% year-on-year. Footfall in shopping centres continued to decline, falling 2% in July, up on the 2.3% decline in June.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said the statistics “remain lacklustre, with total footfall down again. Retailers will have taken comfort from the fact that recent BRC figures show that total sales grew over the same period.

“Given the decline in footfall is slowing and high street locations actually reported an increase in shopper numbers of 0.3%, some retailers in some locations may have some reasons to be cheerful.”

Of greater cause for concern, she said, is the rise in the national town centre vacancy rate to 10.1% in July, up from 9.6% in April.
Helen commented: “The increase in the number of empty shops is an unwelcome reminder of the heavy burden of property costs.

“After a long run of shop vacancies being below 10%, seeing them rise over that threshold once again will be a bitter disappointment to many.
“The retail industry is undergoing a transformation driven by technology, which is changing the way we shop. Shoppers are demanding more a personalised service and a seamless interaction between physical and digital. With UK property taxes higher than anywhere else in the developed world, they act as a disincentive to operate physical space.

“Today’s figures should serve as a wake-up call. If property costs in general, and business rates in particular, continue ever upwards, we should all be concerned about the impact on our local communities up and down the country.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director of Springboard, added: “July saw a break in the clouds in some retail areas, with better weather and strong end of sale discounting of up to 70% off helping to improve high street footfall, which was up 0.3%.

“Some high streets in London and other major cities saw the changes in exchange rates produce increased spend from overseas visitors.

“However, after 29 months of consecutive growth in footfall for out-of-town locations up until May, July followed June’s pattern of a slight footfall decline of 0.3% and shopping centres were down by 2%.”

Turning to the national town centre vacancy rate of 10.1%, she commented: “This is the highest vacancy rate since April 2015, after which the rate remained below 10%.

“The April to June quarter can prove irregular, as post-Christmas pop ups and temporary stores disappear from the high street. And the EU referendum and political and economic uncertainty of the last quarter will have deterred some retailers from taking on leases.

“The next quarter’s figures will be the ones to watch to get a clear picture on any continued increase in vacancy rates, which would be concerning for town centres across the UK.”

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