Sep 3, 2020
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Footfall recovery continues but at slow pace, store vacancies rise

Sep 3, 2020

UK footfall to retail destinations continues to strengthen, two reports showed on Thursday, although it’s still not where stores would want it to be and the return to normality will be slow. Store vacancy rates are on the rise too, further undermining the rate of recovery.

Store vacancies are rising in the UK - Photo: Sandra Halliday

Ipsos Retail Performance said that “confidence in masked-up shopping and UK staycations boosted shopper numbers” in August with weekly footfall to non-food stores up 18.8% compared to July. But year-on-year, traffic fell 41.7%, although this was better than the -53% in July.

Dr Tim Denison, Director of Retail Intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance, said: “August is usually a quieter month than July, but the reverse was true this year. Weekly footfall levels in non-food shops rose in each of its four weeks, reflecting both the growing confidence in masking-up and going into shops and the greater number of people deciding to stay in the UK this summer rather than venturing abroad on holiday. Retailers also played a significant part by offering heavy promotions to encourage shoppers back into stores.”

Meanwhile, based on an alternative set of metrics, Springboard said that August footfall was down ‘only’ 30.8% year-on-year, with retail parks again the strongest locations. They were down 11.1% compared to a 38.3% decline in high streets and a 33.9% drop in shopping centres. 

Smaller high streets continued to benefit from home working and local shopping, with footfall in market towns 26.6% down on last year in August versus -38.3% across all UK high streets.

Coastal towns also performed strongly with footfall down 24.4% from August 2019, as the shifting quarantine regulations led to those staycations.

But one worrying note in the report was that the UK vacancy rate rose in July 2020 to 10.8% from 9.8% in January, which means it’s now at the highest level since January 2014, reflecting recent widespread store closures.

Vacancies rose in six out of 10 UK geographies, but by far the greatest increase of nearly two-thirds occurred in Greater London. With Central London dominating Greater London in terms of footfall volume, this result brings into sharp focus the difficulties faced by large cities in attracting customers back and the impact of this on the bricks and mortar retail landscape.

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