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More shoppers visited retail parks and shopping centres in January – but high streets lost out

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More shoppers visited UK retail parks and shopping centres in January, while the overall number of people going to shops fell more slowly than previously, the latest figures suggest.

Overall visits to stores fell by 0.5% in January, compared to the same month last year, according to the Springboard Footfall Monitor for January 2020. The figure represents a slower decline than the fall of 0.7% seen a year earlier. Both retail parks (+1.4%) and shopping centres (+0.2%) saw more visitors, but the number going to high streets (-1.8%) was down, possibly losing out to shopping centres. At the same time, the shop vacancy rate also improved slightly, to 9.8%, from 9.9% a year earlier. 

Retail parks are benefitting, says Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, as they bridge the gap between functionality and experience “by offering a proposition that meets the needs of today’s efficient shopper; they are easy to access and navigate with the additional benefit of free parking, whilst incorporating an offer that matches consumer expectations as spending restraint continues in the face of ongoing economic uncertainty.”

Retail parks are thought to have a greater appeal to multichannel shoppers who want to buy online and collect in store because it is easier to park. Many retail parks also offer the opportunity to mix experiences such as cinema visits and bowling trips with shopping. 

Springboard says the shopping centre figures represent the first rise in visitor numbers since March 2017, and the only third time visitor numbers have risen in four years. The figure could be an early sign that shopping centre regeneration schemes that include experiences are working to attract shoppers. “It is likely,” said Springboard’s Wehrle,, “that this is part of the reason why footfall in high streets declined by 18% in January, as consumers were attracted back into shopping centres, and if further illustrated by the contrast in footfall post 8pm which rose by 3% in shopping centres whilst declining by -1.3% in high streets”.

She added: “This result reinforces the benefit of a single ownership structure and also demonstrates the realisation that the old format of 100% retail is no longer relevant. Whilst the gestation period for shopping centre investment may be a long one, once the chess pieces are finally in place a single owner is often more readily able deliver meaningful change than a high street, which can be weighed down by a multiplicity of owners all of whom have varying objectives and aspirations for their particular asset. 

“The path of enhancement of shopping centres has only just begun, but the shift in the proposition of some malls alongside the reduction in supply, taking out malls that are simply not fit for future purpose, will bode well for those that remain. The issue moving forward will be the cumulative impact of this, together with the functionality of retail parks, on high streets.” 

Image: InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon

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