UK footfall hits five-year low in January

Bricks and mortar retailers faced another challenging month in January as figures reveal footfall dropped to the lowest level in five years.

According to the latest BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor, footfall declined 1.6% last month.

This is an improvement on December’s 3.5% decline, but it’s the worst result for January since 2013.

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All regions showed a drop in shopper numbers for January, the sharpest decline seen in Scotland (4.6%), South West (2.6%) and The East (2.5%).

Greater London decline eased; footfall fell 1.2% compared to December’s fall of -3.7%.

High street footfall fell by 1.9% in January, a deeper decline than seen the same month a year ago (-0.8%). This was below the three-month average of -2.1%.

But footfall at retail parks grew by 0.9%, above the three-month average of 0.2%.

The South East and the West Midlands saw strong growth here, with footfall climbing 4.0% and 3.3% respectively. These were the only shopping destinations to experience growth in January.

Shopping Centre footfall fell by 3.1%, a deeper decline than the three-month average of 2.8%.

Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle said: “It is clear that the challenges facing bricks and mortar retailing are continuing to build – the 1.9% decline in high street footfall is more than double the -0.8% in January 2017 and shopping centre footfall continues to languish at -3.1% following a drop of -3% in January last year.”

Meanwhile, the national town centre vacancy rates provided some positivity, dropping from 9.3% in October to 2017 to 8.9% in January.

This is largely due to reduced vacancy rates for Greater London, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

But British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said the positive picture for vacancy rates over the last quarter is marginal.

“The Christmas trading period traditionally sees a boost in temporary lets, as landlords get creative with the flexible use of space to create pop-ups. This was particularly evident in London this year due to its denser physical retail offer. The long term trend is that vacancies remain stubbornly at around 9%, albeit much higher in many areas.

“If we look beyond the seasonal distortion, the pressures to rationalise and downsize store portfolios are continuing to build as structural and technological change gains momentum. Given that planning applications for new shops have fallen for the ninth year in a row, the mounting cost of property taxation will inevitably mean more empty shops on the high street.”

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