The national town centre vacancy rate has reached its highest level in four years, hitting 10.3% for the month of July.
The rate is the highest since January 2015, the British Retail Consortium-Springboard footfall and vacancies monitor shows.
Despite a 0.1% increase on the previous quarter, total footfall declined by 1.9% between 30 June and 27 July – the worst decline for the month since 2012.
Shopping centre footfall was hardest hit – dipping 3.1% compared with a high street decline of 2.7%.
In comparison, retail park footfall increased by 1.2%.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Retailers have faced a challenging environment this month, with declines in footfall on high streets and shopping centres. Sluggish sales growth and declining footfall also contributed to the rise in town centre vacancies, which rose to their highest level since January 2015. High streets and town centres play an important part in our local communities, and we should be concerned by the rise in empty store fronts.
“If the government wishes to avoid seeing more empty shops in our town centres then they must act to relieve some of the pressure bearing down on the high street. Currently, retail accounts for 5% of the economy, yet pays 10% of all business costs and 25% of all business taxes. The rising vacancy figures show this is simply not sustainable.
“We need an immediate freeze in rates, as well as fixing the transitional Relief, which leads to cornershops in Redcar subsidising banks in central London.”
Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, explained the comparatively strong performance of retail parks: “Consumer demand is ever more polarised between convenience and experience. The stronger performance of out-of-town destinations, where footfall rose by 1.2% in July, reflects the fact that retail parks are successfully bridging the convenience-experience gap. They not only offer consumers accessible shopping environments with free parking, and easy click-and-collect opportunities for online purchases, but many also combine this with an enhanced experience that includes coffee shops and casual dining restaurants, and some also have leisure facilities.
”The attraction of retail parks was demonstrated clearly in the last week of the month when temperatures reached record levels. With temperatures peaking at nearly 40°C on the Wednesday and Thursday of that week, footfall in high streets and shopping centres declined by an average of 7% on those two days, but only by -0.5% in retail parks.
”Indeed, the positive footfall result for out-of-town destinations in July, particularly the fact that footfall rose by 2.1% during day-time trading hours, demonstrates that if the offer is right consumers will spend.”