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Out-of-town footfall up as multichannel continues to change the way we shop

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Customers who buy online and collect in store are among the factors boosting visitor footfall at out of town shopping centres, British Retail Consortium (BRC) figures suggested today.

Footfall at out-of-town centres grew by 1.5% in January 2015, according to the BRC/Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor for the month. Over the past three months, since November 2014, footfall at such centres has grown by an average of 1.2%.

Footfall on high streets (-1.6% in January and -2.4% over the three months) and shopping centres (-2.8%/-1.5%), however, fell over the same period. Overall, UK retail footfall fell by 1.2% in January and averaged -1.4% over the three months to January.

At the same time the national town centre vacancy rate edged up to 10.4% in January, up from 10.3% in October.

Helen Dickinson, director general of the BRC , said out-of-town footfall reflected factors including stronger consumer confidence that was leading to increased furniture sales, more often bought from larger out-of-town centres.

Ecommerce, she said, was also having a significant effect on shopping behaviour. “January is traditionally strong for online sales and this year was no exception,” she said. “This has undoubtedly impacted on footfall for high streets and shopping centres and is further evidence of the impact of our changing shopping habits. Retailers will be looking closely at these figures to help them harness the growth of e-retailing to drive consumers to their bricks and mortar stores. Click-and-collect services are an excellent example of how this is happening right now and innovations in this area are set to continue for some time to come.”

She said fostering best practice by encouraging pop-up shops, increasing digital connectivity and focusing on town centre improvement would be “crucial” to reduce the vacancy rate.

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard , said January’s drop in footfall came in “stark contrast” to the 1.6% increase recorded in January 2014. Out-of-town shopping centres account for a minority of shopping floor space, and the decline in footfall elsewhere showed, she said, that “our urban shopping locations are losing market share”.

“Without doubt this is due to both the challenge of the internet and the convenience of out-of-town locations for click-and-collect as they offer plentiful, accessible parking that is free of charge.”

She suggested that the shop vacancy rate could rise further this year as retail leases expire and consumer demand for discounts rises.

Commenting on the figures, Phil Smith, chief executive of Cisco UK&I, said: “The British high street has a strong future ahead of it, but only if it takes advantage of innovative technology to drive customers back and increase their spend. By and large, the high street as a whole has been slow to adapt. The Internet of Everything however presents an opportunity to level the playing field and fend off competition from more agile, flexible and heavily discounted out-of-town and online competitors.

"Recent Cisco research found shoppers want convenient and relevant retail experiences, and those offering digital and connected experiences could capture a 15.6 percent profit improvement. Further falling profits and footfall are inevitable unless the high-street reacts with innovative solutions to provide a great shopping experience, such as pushing offers to shoppers when they are in range of their favourite shops."

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