High street footfall declines in January as vacancy rates rise

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Footfall on the UK’s high streets fell by -0.7% in January, coinciding with the highest vacancy rates since July 2016, according to the latest BRC/ Springboard figures.

In January both total footfall and high street footfall fell by -0.7%, while retail park and shopping centre footfall dropped by -0.3% and -0.9% respectively.

However, the decline is more significant when taking into account that the first week of January saw a 2.6% rise in footfall, driven mainly by New Year’s Eve.

“We should not be persuaded that the drop in footfall in January of just -0.7% suggests trading conditions have stabilised,” said Springboard marketing and insights director, Diane Wehrle.

“On closer interrogation, the clear fact is that all of this improvement emanates from the first week when footfall rose by 2.6% whilst dropping by an average of -2.1% over the three subsequent weeks. Even in the first week the uplift was largely driven by one day - New Year’s Eve (Monday 31 December) - which showed an uplift of 151%.”

She said the high street vacancy rate rose for the second consecutive quarter, to 9.9% from 9.6% in October and 9.2% in July, and is now at the highest it has been since July 2016 when it rose to 10.1% from 9.6% in the previous quarter.

British Retail Consortium (BRC) chief executive Helen Dickinson said the data reflected the underlying pressure which “continue to challenge shops up and down the country”.

“Consumers are making fewer visits to physical stores, choosing to research and pay for a greater proportion of their purchases online,” she added.

“This requires a reinvention of retail, with outlets investing in their physical space to encourage a more experience-led approach to shopping – something which is being held back by sky high business rates.”

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