Footfall across the UK’s high street edged up 0.2% in January – the first year on year rise since July 2013 and a significant improvement on the 4% decline in December.
Overall, footfall across high streets, retail parks and shopping centres was up 1.2% on a year ago, excluding Easter distortions, according to research firm Springboard and the British Retail Consortium.
Footfall in retail parks increased 5.2% year on year, while shopping centre footfall was broadly flat.
Meanwhile the national town centre vacancy rate was 8.7% in January 2016, down from the 9.1% rate reported in October 2015. This is the lowest reported rate since Springboard and the BRC began reporting the data in July 2011.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The improvement in shopper footfall witnessed in January provided a timely and welcome fillip to retailers at the start of the year, with retail parks once again recording a stellar performance. Indeed, this was the best overall footfall performance for two years, and well ahead of the three-month average.
“The further reduction in the shop vacancy rate is encouraging, more so against a backdrop in which online retailing is becoming increasingly popular. However, the fact remains that one in every eleven retail premises in our town centres lies empty.
“The current business rates system, in which rates bills only ever seem to rise, is wholly inadequate to the task ahead and so it is imperative that the chancellor capitalises on the conclusion of the review next month to introduce a system which flexes with economic conditions and leads to a substantially lower tax burden.”
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, added: “The increase in footfall across all retail destination types, the first since December 2011, alongside the rise in spending in January, finally demonstrates what is well known - that bricks-and-mortar shopping environments are still important to consumers.
“The improved vacancy rate is an encouraging sign, but there needs to be caution about being too optimistic as evidence shows the driving force to be an increase in pop-ups and temporary lets in the run up to Christmas and which are still occupied.
“However, the rationale for pop-ups for many retailers is an exploration of whether there is an appetite for the brand in that location; and an increase in footfall may encourage the conversion of a proportion of these into permanent occupancy, so improving the vacancy position into the next quarter.”