High street retail footfall increases for first time in two and a half years

shopping bag

Last week Britain’s retailers reported their first rise in high street retail footfall since July 2013. The number of visitors to the high street increased by 0.2% year on year in January – the first increase in over two years. This is a significant turnaround for retailers after a worrying decline in footfall was recorded over the festive period when visits dropped by 4%.

And it wasn’t just the high street that was seeing a promising increase – footfall was up across the board – from the high street to retail parks and shopping centres – all experienced their best overall performance for retail traffic in well over two years.

According to Retail Week, figures released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard showed that the average footfall across all the types of physical store location increased by 1.2%, which was significantly above the 2.2% drop in December and the first increase recorded in any location following nine consecutive months of decline.

However, despite this promising sign for the high streets, retail parks still appear to be beating them at their game – as the number of shoppers visiting retail parks increased by 5.2%, more than double the 2.1% increase the previous month with an average rise for the three month period at 3%.

Meanwhile in the shopping centres, recorded footfall remained consistently modest – despite the fact that they saw their best performance since January 2014, and were up from the 1.6% drop in the previous month.

Along with the footfall, the number of reported retail vacancies also exhibited a positive impact. With the overall recorded town centre vacancy rate in the UK dropping to 8.7% – this is the lowest reported vacancy rate since BRC and Springboard started measuring the vacancy rate in 2011.

Speaking to Retail Week, marketing and insight director at Springboard, Diane Wehrle suggested that the new figures indicate that town centres are still important to both retailers and shoppers:

“The increase in footfall across all retail destination types, the first since December 2011, alongside the rise in spending in January, finally demonstrates what is well known – that bricks-and-mortar shopping environments are still important to consumers.

“The improved vacancy rate is an encouraging sign, but there needs to be caution about being too optimistic as evidence shows the driving force to be an increase in pop-ups and temporary lets in the run-up to Christmas and which are still occupied.”

Only time will tell if the tide is turning for the high street – and whether they can keep up the momentum in both footfall and occupied retail spaces. As always we’ll be watching with interest and writing about what happens – so keep following Barber for more updates and info.