The rate at which empty shops are being filled in town centres is lower than across shopping centres and retail parks with independent retailers becoming a more common feature within UK malls.
According to research published by the Local Data Company (LDC) and the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC), shopping centres saw a 0.8% fall in vacancy rates in the first half of 2014 compared with the same period last year, whereas in town centres the figure was 0.6%.
But the overall vacancy rate of 15.3% in 685 shopping centres surveyed by LDC remains the highest of all retail sectors and above the national average of 13.3% in August. The rate on the high street currently stands at 11.9%, down from 12.5% in the first half of 2013, while on retail parks only 8.1% of stores are empty.
The BCSC said the 0.8% figure for shopping centres equated to 242 fewer empty stores in the UK compared with last year, which was partly driven by an increase in the number of stores let to independent retailers. The research found half of all shopping centre stores are now occupied by independents. It did not provide a breakdown for how many stores this involved.
Within the top 30 shopping centres, however, less than one in five shops is an independent retailer.
BCSC chief executive Michael Green said: “It is positive to see shopping centres reducing the numbers of empty shops and doing so at a faster rate than the towns in which they sit. As they are managed as single entities, with management strategies to match, they are well-placed to adapt to changing retail dynamics.
“It is clear that these changes will result in a need for an increasingly diverse mix of businesses. Particularly as a number of traditional retailers look to consolidate the amount of physical space from which they trade.”
He added: “Independent retailers now account for one out of every two shops in British shopping centres. We expect this to increase over the next six months as more and more shopping centre owners look to vary what they are offering to their shoppers. There is, of course, no doubt that where a shopping centre is struggling - usually because of an oversupply of retail space - it is the large chain stores that leave first: independents, in extreme cases, can be the last people standing.”
In the north of England shopping centre vacancy actually increased during the period, with the North East showing a rise of 4.4% and the number of empty stores in the North West rising by 2.4%.
Shopping centres in Wales saw the biggest improvement of any region, with an uplift of 5.2% year on year, followed by Scotland where vacancies fell by 2.2%. English shopping centres only achieved a 0.5% reduction in vacancy.