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Retail parks see visitor numbers rise as they cater for the omnichannel shopper

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Retail parks continue to buck the trend, attracting more visitors as they successfully adapt to the needs of the omnichannel shopper who is keen to buy whenever, wherever and however they want, new British Retail Consortium figures suggest.

Now, says the BRC, there are positive signs that high streets may succeed in doing the same as retailers open more town centre shops in order to cater to the needs of digital shoppers.

Footfall across UK retail locations was 1.1% lower in July than at the same time last year – but 3.2% higher in retail parks, the highest gain since May 2014, according to the July BRC/Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor. Visitor numbers on the high street and at shopping centres, however, were lower by 2.2% and 2.5% respectively.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard , said the long-term footfall trend seemed to be settling at a drop of 1% a month, and that the latest drop of 1.1% in July was in the urban locations of high streets and shopping centres. “In contrast,” she said, “retail parks are recording a continuous uplift in activity (an average of +1.8 per cent per month over the last year), no doubt due to the fact that they are capitalising on the demands of shoppers for convenience, which is becoming the byword in the omnichannel trading environment.”

Despite continued falling footfall, town centre shop vacancy rates fell to 9.8% in July, the lowest reported rate since July 2011. This may come as retailers recalibrate themselves in the light of online shopping.

“For years, structural changes within retail have been challenging the role of the ‘traditional’ high street,” said Helen Dickinson, director general of the BRC . “Many high streets up and down the country have been working to meet these challenges by reshaping themselves (in some cases becoming smaller) and working hard to establish their own unique offer as well integrating it with a digital presence. Despite this the vacancy rate has remained stubbornly high – the dip below 10% for the first time may be indicative of successful attempts to reshape Britain’s high streets in some locations.”

However, she warned that shops would only continue to open in town centres if visitors return as a result.

“No matter how successful high streets are in re-inventing themselves, if they can’t deliver increased footfall we could easily see vacancy rates climbing again,” she said. “It’s worth noting that the footfall decline has slowed this month, but it still has a way to go. So today’s numbers seem to indicate that some British high streets are beginning to solve their space problem, but have yet to capitalise on this and drive up shopper numbers. This is a delicate balancing act and could easily be derailed. Reducing the burden of business rates would give high street operators the opportunity they need to allow more of them to finally flourish.”

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