New figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) paint a rather gloomy picture for struggling retailers across the country. Total retail footfall in January was 4.6 percent lower than a year ago, the weakest footfall figure since April 2012, when numbers declined 6.9 percent.
Christmas footfall was 1.7 percent lower than a year before and January was down 1.2 percent.
Footfall weakened in all locations, but out of town locations got the worst of it, reporting a 7.2 percent fall. Shopping centres performed slightly better, with a 5.2 percent decline, while high street shops saw their footfall drop by 3.3 percent. The national town centre vacancy rate in the UK was 10.9 percent in January 2013, down from 11.3 percent in October 2012.
Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said it is good to see vacancy rates slightly down on October 2012’s record figures. However, she pointed out that there are widespread variations and that some regions, such as Wales, were particularly hard hit in the previous quarter.
“If the government wants to support reducing the vacancy rate further, it could really help by freezing business rates in April,” Dickinson said. “The rising cost of doing business is a looming threat to the future health of retailers and high streets”.
Although Dickinson believes the steep drop in footfall is a source for concern, the fact that fewer shoppers visited brick and mortar stores does not appear to have dented sales growth in January. She pinned some of the blame on cold weather and snow, which meant fewer shoppers chose to take out-of-town shopping trips.
Diane Wehrle, Research Director at Springboard, said in a statement that the decline for the high street was the highest since 2010. She also believes the weather had a lot to do with the grim figures.
“The greater decline in footfall in retail parks of -7.2 percent is a function of this, as shoppers were no doubt reluctant to drive in precarious conditions,” Wehrle said. “What is unusual, particularly in the winter, is that the high street fared better than shopping centres which recorded a decline in footfall of -5.2 percent”.
Poor weather probably did have a lot to do with the downturn, but e-commerce continues to influence wider changes in consumer habits.