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Reimagine the store, says the BRC, as store visitor numbers fall for the 14th month in a row

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Retailers must reimagine the store if they are are to attract shoppers who are now choosing to research and buy online, British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson has warned.

Dickinson was speaking as the latest BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies report for January 2019 showed that the number of people visiting UK shops fell in January for the 14th month in a row.

The analysis suggested that footfall was up in the first week of January, compared to the same time last year, as retailers held their sale events in-store rather than online. But beyond the first week, visitor numbers fell away and were down over the month as a whole.

“The data reflects the underlying pressures which continue to challenge shops up and down the country,” said Dickinson. “Retail is undergoing a seismic shift, with technology changing the way we shop. Consumers are making fewer visits to physical stores, choosing to research and pay for a greater proportion of their purchases online. This requires a reinvention of retail, with outlets investing in their physical space to encourage a more experience-led approach to shopping – something which is being held back by sky high business rates.”

Department store retailers such as John Lewis [pictured] and Debenhams have focused on events, workshops, customer service and personal advice as they look to attract shoppers back in-store. ONS figures show that department store sales have moved online faster than in other retail categories.

Overall, today’s footfall figures showed a 0.7% decline, compared to the previous January. That, however, was less sharp than the 1.6% fall that had been seen the previous year. 

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. And even in the first week, the uplift was largely driven by one day -– New Year’s Eve (Monday December 31) – 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.

High street footfall was down (-0.7%) for the sixth month in a row, but with less of a strong fall than the 1.9% decline seen last January. Visitor numbers to retail parks (-0.3%) and shopping centres (-0.9%) were also down. Last January, visitor numbers to retail parks had been slightly up (+0.9%) but those to shopping centres were down by 3.1%.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that shopping destinations would also be concerned by figures showing that one in 10 (9.9%) town centre shops were vacant. That’s up from 8.9% a year ago.

Springboard’s Wehrle said: “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.”

Image courtesy of John Lewis

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