The national town centre vacancy rate was 9.9% in January 2019, up from 8.9% a year earlier
This is according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard that also found retail footfall dropped a further 0.7% in January – although this was a lesser decline compared with the previous year where it fell by 1.6%.
The data marks the 14th month of consecutive decline. The BRC said the footfall received a slight boost as the school holidays extended further into January this year compared to last.
It also appears that some retailers focused on discount events within their physical stores during January, which is likely to have increased traffic as well.
High Street footfall declined by 0.7%, marking six consecutive months of weakening for this shopping location. This was a lesser decline relative to the previous year when it fell by 1.9%.
Additionally the data found Shopping Centre footfall continued to decline by 0.9%, following the decline of 3.1% a year ago.
Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said: “We should not be persuaded that the drop in footfall in January of just -0.7% suggests trading conditions have stabilised. 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 31st December) – which showed an uplift of +151%; which again should be taken with a pinch of salt as it was compared against New Year’s Day In 2017 when trading hours were more limited and the weather was very poor.”
She added: “Despite the fact that the vacancy rate is a lagged and sticky indicator – trailing sales and footfall trends, and subject to the vagaries of lease lengths – in January it reflected the ongoing challenges faced by retailers and recent store closures. It 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.
“The truth is that footfall in overall terms is still sliding, however, a slight glimmer of hope for retailers is that day time footfall – which accounts for around 70% of total footfall volume – rose by +0.6% in January driven by a greater increase of +5.4% in the first week, with a lesser average drop of just -1.1% between the second and fourth weeks.”