Retailers fight battle on two fronts as shop vacancies rise while footfall drops

The vacancy rate in UK town centres rose to 10.3 per cent in October, the first rise in shop vacancy rates since the first quarter of 2013, according to the latest statistics from the British Retail Consortium and Springboard.

While shops stood empty, footfall also faced a year-on-year decline, coming in 0.8 per cent lower than a year ago as the warm weather in October kept shoppers away from stocking up on winter wardrobes.

Speaking in light of the results, Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium director general, said: “It’s disappointing to see the first increase in shop vacancies since the first quarter of 2013. There had been some hope that the amount of empty shops would dip below the 10 per cent threshold for the first time since we began collecting this data. This has sadly not transpired.

She added: “Encouraging shoppers back to the High Street is crucial to reducing the number of vacancies. However, we’ve seen that visitor numbers on our High Streets are down again, this month by 1.4 per cent. In order to drive up footfall, some local areas need to continue to learn from more successful Town Centres by encouraging pop-ups, using empty premises as community spaces or even as arts venues to ensure that empty shops don’t become a blight on the local area.”

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said: “Footfall has improved only very slightly over the last month which, while disappointing, is not surprising. The entire 0.8 per cent decline in October emanated from high streets and shopping centres – which is likely to be a fall out of the continuing mild weather adversely impacting fashion sales – whilst retail parks continued their charge with footfall increasing for the tenth month in a row.”

What’s more, news that Christmas dinners will cost even less than last year due to the supermarkets’ endless price battles, along with continued aggressive discounting on the high street, suggests retailers could be in for another fraught festive season as mid-November makes way for what is traditionally the busiest six weeks of the retail year.


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