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Retail vacancy rates rise

The national town centre vacancy rate rose to 9.9% in January, the highest it has been since July 2016.

The latest BRC-Springboard footfall and vacancies monitor reveals that the number of empty shops increased from 8.9% in January 2018.

The vacancy rate looks unlikely to improve as Marks & Spencer, Cotswold Outdoors and John Lewis were among the retailers who announced store closures last month.

Footfall for the four weeks to 26 January dropped 0.7%,  compared with a 1.6% decline in the same period in 2018.

The marginal improvement is thought to be a result of school holidays extending further into January and in-store discounting events.

Shopping centre footfall fell the most, by 0.9%. High street footfall declined for the sixth consecutive month, at a rate of 0.7%. Retail parks suffered the least, but footfall was still down 0.3%.

“The data reflects the underlying pressures which continue to challenge shops up and down the country. Retail is undergoing a seismic shift, with technology changing the way we shop,” Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, commented. “Consumers are making fewer visits to physical stores, choosing to research and pay for a greater proportion of their purchases online. This requires a reinvention of retail, with outlets investing in their physical space to encourage a more experience-led approach to shopping – something which is being held back by sky high business rates.”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, added: “We should not be persuaded that the drop in footfall in January of just -0.7% suggests trading conditions have stabilised. On closer interrogation, the clear fact is that all of this improvement emanates from the first week, when footfall rose by 2.6% while dropping by an average of 2.1% over the three subsequent weeks. And even in the first week the uplift was largely driven by one day – New Year’s Eve – which showed a surge of 151%.”

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