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Shopper numbers fall in July, hitting high streets and shopping centres

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The number of visitors to high streets and shopping centres fell in July, new figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) suggest.

The latest BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor shows that visitor numbers were down by 1.1% in July, and comes hot on the heels of BRC-KPMG figures for July that showed slowing online and offline retail sales growth.

Visitors to high streets (-2.1%) and shopping centres (-1.3%) were both down, although retail parks saw growth of 1.7%. It was the fourth consecutive month of footfall decline in shopping centres.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC , said: “Most shopping destinations saw a decline in footfall in July compared with the previous year. Even high streets, which have seen fairly stable growth over recent months, reported a decline. Retail parks were the exception and have fared relatively well since March this year reflecting in part lower rental costs compared to prime and town centre locations as well as convenience for shoppers.

“The overall decline in footfall translated into weak sales performance for stores in non-food particularly, which fell further into negative territory as consumers rein back spending on non-essential items.

“The vacancy rate, now at its highest for a year, fails to brighten the picture for what was evidently a challenging month for retailers. Nearly one in 10 retail shops currently lie vacant and those in some vulnerable communities remain persistently empty, limiting the chances of these places to thrive.”

The East and South East were the only two regions that saw footfall growth in July, with the fastest growth in the East, which has now seen eight months of consecutive footfall growth.

East Midlands showed the fastest decline on the High Street of all the regions at -4.7%.

Overall, the steepest decline in footfall in July occurred in the South West and Greater London, both showing a fall of -2.1%. Wales showed the first decline in seven months, at -0.9%. Scotland saw a further decline from -0.2% in June to -0.4% July.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said: “July’s results might well mark a sea change in consumers’ willingness to spend, as it was the first time since January that footfall dropped during both retail trading hours and into the evening. Over the last few months the growing importance of the leisure based trip has become a key part of the narrative when talking about retail destinations, but a -0.5 per cent drop in footfall post 5pm in July is the first evidence of a tightening of purse strings on casual dining and leisure trips.

“Declining footfall demonstrates that the fall in non-food sales is due to a reduced number of shoppers, so retailers that maintain their in-store footfall are at a clear advantage. Despite a drop in fashion sales, consumers increased their spending on products for the home and out of town locations are the beneficiaries. July’s +1.7 per cent increase in out of town footfall is the fifth in as many months, and averaging +1.9 per cent since March compared with -0.3 per cent over the previous five month period. These results together with the high level of consumer borrowing and an increase in the vacancy rate to 9.6 per cent from 9.3 per cent in April – the highest it’s been since July last year – suggest that trading conditions could be reaching a tipping point into a period of restraint.”

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