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Published on August 14th, 2017 | by The GC Team

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Town centre shop vacancies rise as retail footfall slows

Retail footfall in July fell 1.1% against the previous year, while the national town centre vacancy rate increased to 9.6% from the 9.3% recorded in April this year.

According to figures released by the BRC and Springboard, high street footfall fell 2.1% while shopping centres recorded a 1.3% decline. Retail Parks saw growth of 1.7%.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief-Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said the overall decline in footfall translated into a weak sales performance for non-food stores in particular.

“Most shopping destinations saw a decline in footfall in July compared with the previous year. Even high streets, which have seen fairly stable growth over recent months, reported a decline,” Dickinson commented.

“Retail parks were the exception and have fared relatively well since March this year, reflecting in part lower rental costs compared to prime and town centre locations as well as convenience for shoppers.”

The East and South East were the only two regions that saw footfall grow in July. The fastest rise was in the East, which has now seen eight months of consecutive growth.

East Midlands was the region with the fastest decline on the high street, down 4.7%.

Overall, the steepest decline occurred in the South West and Greater London, both showing a fall of 2.1%. Wales recorded its first fall in seven months, at 0.9%, and Scotland saw a further decline, down 0.4% after a 0.2% drop in June.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, said July’s results might well mark a sea change in consumers’ willingness to spend, as it was the first time since January that footfall dropped during both retail trading hours and into the evening. 

“These results together with the high level of consumer borrowing and an increase in the vacancy rate to 9.6% from 9.3% in April – the highest it’s been since July last year – suggest that trading conditions could be reaching a tipping point into a period of restraint.”

BRC’s Dickinson added: “The vacancy rate, now at its highest for a year, fails to brighten the picture for what was evidently a challenging month for retailers. Nearly one in 10 retail shops currently lie vacant and those in some vulnerable communities remain persistently empty, limiting the chances of these places to thrive. What’s more, September’s RPI, which is expected to be in the region of 4%, represents a substantial increase in business rates for retailers in April 2018. So Government’s commitment to switch to CPI indexation should really be brought forward from 2020.”

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