July footfall down and shop vacancies up

Retail footfall fell 0.4 per cent compared with a year ago and town centre shop vacancy rates topped 10 per cent for the first time since April last year.

These were the key findings from the latest BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor found. It showed that although July footfall was lower than a year ago, but had improved on the 2.8 per cent fall seen in June.

High-street footfall increased for the second time in three months, up 0.3 per cent in July. This was an improvement on the 3.7 per cent drop recorded in June. This is only the third time in two years that footfall has risen.

Shopping centres fared worse for footfall, with July’s figure two per cent down – slightly better than June’s 2.3 per cent fall.

Retail parks did rather better. There, footfall showed year-on-year fall in July of 0.3 per cent. But they did worse in June, falling by one per cent on June 2015.

For retail parks, this was an improvement on the one per cent fall recorded in June but lower than the three-month average of a 0.1 per cent decrease.

Footfall in the shopping centres in July improved on the 2.3 per cent dip in June and was also slightly better than the three-month average of a 2.1 per cent decline.

The town centre vacancy rate in July topped 10 per cent (10.1 per cent) for the first time since April 2015. This was up from the 9.6 per cent recorded in April this year.

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson (pictured) said: “Today’s figures remain lacklustre with total footfall down again, this month by 0.4 per cent. 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 per cent, some retailers in some locations may have some reasons to be cheerful.

“Of greater cause for concern is the rise in shop vacancy rates to 10.1 per cent. 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 per cent, 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.”