Footfall across UK retail destination fell 1.2% year-on-year in January 2015, according to figures released today by Springboard and the British Retail Consortium. This contrasts to the 0.2% increase in BRC retail sales and is considerably different to the 1.6% year-on-year increase seen in January 2014.
Following the trend seen throughout last year, retail parks saw increasing growth with footfall up 1.5% for the month, whereas shopping centres and high streets continued to lose market share, falling 2.8% and 1.6% year-on-year respectively.
As vacancy rates remain above 10%, the high street is under threat. The latest figures show a slight improvement in rates but with a number of retail leases due to expire this year, they are likely to increase again. This will adversely impact high streets while online retailers unfairly benefit. The government has pledged to review business rates but radical solutions are needed and with the upcoming election, it is crucial business rates stay on the agenda as a priority to secure long term business sustainability.
Diane Wehrle, Retail Insights Director at Springboard, comments:
“The 1.2% drop in footfall across the UK in January is a stark contrast to the 1.6% increase in January 2014, and this contrast is heightened further by the fact that it also comes in the face of a modest increase in retail sales in January of 0.2%. As it did so for virtually all of 2014, in January, footfall continued to increase in retail parks whilst declining in both high streets and shopping centres. So while high streets and shopping centres still account for the majority of our shopping floorspace, the ongoing strengthening of retail parks is clear evidence that our urban shopping locations are losing market share.
Without doubt this is due to both the challenge of the internet and the convenience of out-of-town locations for click-and-collect as they offer plentiful, accessible parking that is free of charge. Despite this, it is good news that the vacancy rate has increased only slightly, to 10.4%; although the number of retail leases that are due to expire over this year suggests that this could rise further over the coming months - particularly as consumers are now demanding discounts, which squeeze margins and adversely impact profitability and long term business sustainability.’’
Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said:
“It has been heartening to see that footfall is up 1.5% on January last year for out-of-town retail destinations. This reflects strong consumer confidence – more of us are happier to splash out on big ticket items, particularly furniture, which we usually travel out of town to view and buy.
January is traditionally strong for online sales and this year was no exception. This has undoubtedly impacted on footfall for high streets and shopping centres and is further evidence of the impact of our changing shopping habits. Retailers will be looking closely at these figures to help them harness the growth of e-retailing to drive consumers to their bricks and mortar stores. Click-and-collect services are an excellent example of how this is happening right now and innovations in this area are set to continue for some time to come.
Rising numbers of vacant shop units are still a cause for concern. We have welcomed the government’s pledge to review business rates on our recommendation however in order to make a real difference the review will need to be wide in scope and seek radical solutions. Many local councils are working hard on initiatives to inspire high streets and shopping centres to flourish and the BRC continues to support this work. Spreading best practice - such as supporting pop up shops, increasing digital connectivity and focusing on general town centre improvement – is crucial if we are to drive down a vacancy rate that remains stubbornly above 10%”