July sales rise despite fewer high street shoppers

Fewer people visited Britain’s shops in July compared to a year ago, but that has not dampened sales, according to a mixed bag of research findings from the British Retail Consortium.

The BRC/Springboard Footfall Monitor found footfall in July was 1.1% lower than a year ago, broadly in line with a three month average decline of 1.2%.

However, total retail sales were up 2.2% in the same month, according to the same research firm.

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Shopping centres suffered most, with footfall down 2.5%. High streets welcomed 2.2% fewer shoppers.

Out of town shopping was on the rise, with a 3.1% increase in footfall in July.

Across all shopping areas, only Greater London recorded a year-on-year increase in footfall. All other regions of the UK fell.

Town and borough high streets have been successful at attracting new businesses, with the national town centre vacancy rate dropping from 10.2% to 9.8% in July, the lowest rate since reporting began in 2011.

Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium director general, said: “Today’s figures contain interesting news for the UK’s retail industry. The continued popularity of retail parks will cheer retailers who have invested in these locations – a footfall increase of 3.1% is the highest we’ve seen since May 2014. The fall in shop vacancy rates to below 10 per cent for the first time since this monitor began will also be welcomed, albeit cautiously.

“For years, structural changes within retail have been challenging the role of the ‘traditional’ high street. Many high streets up and down the country have been working to meet these challenges by reshaping themselves (in some cases becoming smaller) and working hard to establish their own unique offer as well integrating it with a digital presence. Despite this the vacancy rate has remained stubbornly high – the dip below ten per cent for the first time may be indicative of successful attempts to reshape Britain’s high streets in some locations.

“The clear note of caution though can be found in the footfall figures. No matter how successful high streets are in re-inventing themselves, if they can’t deliver increased footfall we could easily see vacancy rates climbing again. It’s worth noting that the footfall decline has slowed this month, but it still has a way to go. So today’s numbers seem to indicate that some British high streets are beginning to solve their space problem, but have yet to capitalise on this and drive up shopper numbers. This is a delicate balancing act and could easily be derailed. Reducing the burden of business rates would give high street operators the opportunity they need to allow more of them to finally flourish.”

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