The number of people visiting UK shops fell once more in July as failing consumer confidence trumped good weather, new figures suggest. However the convenience that retail parks can offer to shoppers buying across channels and looking for experiences helped to boost shopper numbers.
Overall footfall was down by 1.9% compared to the previous July, when footfall was down by 0.9%, according to the BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor for July 2019. The report said that was the worst decline for July since 2012.
High streets and shopping centres suffer as retail continues to change
High street footfall was down by 2.7% on last July, when it was 0.3% up. July’s figure is slightly ahead of the three-month average decline of 4%. Visitors to shopping centres were also down by 3.1%; last July numbers were down by 3.4%.
“July was a much more challenging month for high streets and shopping centres than for out of town destinations,” said Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director. “Some of the -2.7% drop in high street footfall was a consequence of a strong comparable of +0.3% last year when we had a continuous period of hot sunny weather, but for shopping centres – with the -3.1% drop being as almost as severe as the -3.4% drop in footfall last year – the weather clearly has less impact on footfall than the challenges created by the ongoing structural change in retailing.”
Retail parks bridge the convenience-experience gap
Retail parks, however, saw a 1.2% rise in visitors; last July footfall was down by 0.5%. The three-month average growth is 0.2%.
This, said Wehrle, reflected the ongoing polarisation between convenience and experience. “Retail parks are successfully bridging the convenience-experience gap,” she said. “They not only offer consumers accessible shopping environments with free parking and easy click and collect opportunities for online purchases, but many also combine this with an enhanced experience that includes coffee shops and casual dining restaurants and some also have leisure facilities.”
She said that when temperatures peaked at nearly 40 degrees in some places in the last week of July, footfall in high streets and shopping centres was down by an average of 7%, but numbers at retail parks was only down by 0.5%. “Indeed, the positive footfall result for out-of-town destinations in July, particularly the fact that footfall rose by 2.1% during day time trading hours, demonstrates that if the offer is right, consumers will spend.”
Store vacancy rate highest since 2015
The challenges faced by bricks and mortar are also reflected, said Wehrle, in the national town centre vacancy rate, which reached 10.3% in July, up on the previous quarter’s rate of 10.2% and the highest since January 2015.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said retailers had faced a challenging environment during the month. “Sluggish sales growth and declining footfall also contributed to the rise in town centre vacancies, which rose to their highest level since January 2015. High streets and town centres play an important part in our local communities, and we should be concerned by the rise in empty store fronts.
“If the Government wishes to avoid seeing more empty shops in our town centres then they must act to relieve some of the pressure bearing down on the high street. Currently, retail accounts for 5% of the economy, yet pays 10% of all business costs and 25% of all business taxes. The rising vacancy figures show this is simply not sustainable. We need an immediate freeze in rates, as well as fixing the Transitional Relief, which leads to corner shops in Redcar subsidising banks in central London.”
Image: InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon