Vacancy rates grow as footfall drops during October

Monday, 17 November 2014

UK retailers struggled throughout the month of October, with less people venturing out to the high street and town center vacancy rates continue to increase.

According to the latest data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard, the number of empty stores in UK town centers increased to 10.3 percent in October, the first growth since 2013 and up from July's vacancy rate of 10.1 percent.

“It’s disappointing to see the first increase in shop vacancies since the first quarter of 2013,” commented Helen Dickinson, BRC Director General. “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.”

Diane Wehrle, Retail Insights Director at Springboard added: “The slight rise in the vacancy rate of 0.2 percent is also not unexpected given the pressures on margins that retailers are facing, and which have been exacerbated by poor sales resulting from the mild weather over the last two months...we need to become accustomed to an increasing vacancy rate over the next year as this accelerates, as this will inevitably offer retailers an opportunity to vacate poorer performing locations.”

Retail footfall last month was slightly better than September, but was still 0.8 percent lower than a year ago. Shopping centers continue to be the worst affected, reporting the largest drop of 1.9 percent, which is consistent with the three month average. High street numbers declined by 1.4 percent in October, down from the 0.6 percent dip in September.

Out-of-town retail parks fared the best out of the three, reporting a 1.9 percent increase in footfall on a year-on-year basis. “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,” said Dickinson.

“In order to drive up footfall, some local areas need to continue to learn from more successful Town Centers 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. Consideration needs to be given to how people want to use their High Streets now and in the future...we also need to make investment in property improvements attractive again for businesses - the chief way to achieve this will be through fundamental reform of the Business Rates system.”

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