The latest figures from the British Retail Consortium and ATCM/Springboard suggest that a growing number of shops are vacant as customers drift away.
The number of people visiting shops, known as the “footfall”, between May and July was 1 per cent lower than the same period a year earlier. Falling shopper numbers in the UK were driven by a 1.9 per cent drop in people using out-of-town complexes.
Over the last 12 months, high streets on average have seen the highest drop in footfall of 2.6 per cent. The hardest-hit locations were Wales (-9.2 per cent), the West Midlands (-6.6 per cent) and the east of England (-6.2 per cent) which recorded the sharpest decreases in footfall. Greater London (1.6 per cent), the south-west (0.4 per cent) and Scotland (0.2 per cent) were the only locations that saw shopper numbers rise.
According to Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, “fewer people are shopping because households are facing high inflation, low wage growth and uncertainty about future job prospects. But that’s slightly offset by hard-up customers spreading their spending over more but less costly shopping trips. For the quarter, the 1 per cent drop in shopper numbers compared with this time last year is not great, but is actually an improvement on the 1.3 per cent fall over the 12 months before that”.
Diane Wehrle, research director at Springboard, said that compared with the last three years, “a drop in footfall of 1 per cent year-on-year is actually very modest and the decline has been steadily softening throughout 2011. There has also been a shift in activity between different types of shopping areas.
“Traditionally, retail parks and malls outperformed the high street due to ease of access and free parking. However, these areas are now experiencing similar challenges to town centres. The modest 0.6 per cent growth in footfall in shopping centres could, in part, be attributed to the early start of summer sales by the multiples which dominate those spaces.”
“This is the first time we’ve been able to publish footfall and vacancy figures in this level of detail,” said Stephen Robertson, “and it shows stark differences in retail health between some of the UK’s nations and regions. Generally, the parts of the UK where the public sector is a bigger proportion of the economy are the ones where customer spending is most likely to be hit by worries about job prospects and cuts.”
Looking to future trends, the reports suggests that there is some evidence of recovery. As Diane Wehrle points out, “shopping centres experienced the largest annual decline in footfall during the same period in 2010 – so their increase in footfall this year starts from a much lower base. If the trend identified this year continues into 2012 there is a real chance that footfall levels in high streets could stabilise next year.”