The latest report shows a decrease in footfall in the UK by 1.6% year-on-year, a deeper decrease than the rate seen for January 2017 of 1.3 per cent.
All regions showed a drop, with the sharpest decline seen in Scotland (4.6%), South West (2.6%) and The East (2.5%).
High street and shopping centres suffered at the beginning of 2018, with a decrease of 1.9% and 3.1% respectively. However, there was some good news for retail parks, as footfall grew by 0.9% in January – above the three-month average of 0.2%. These were the only shopping destinations to experience growth in January.
The latest monitor also tracked vacancy rates, revealing that the national town centre vacancy rate was 8.9% in January 2018, down from 9.3% in October 2017.
The report shows that this is largely due to reduced vacancy rates for Greater London: 5.6% down from 7.1% in October, Northern Ireland: 14.3% down from 15.2% in October 2017, and Scotland: 9.2% down from 10.5% in October 2017.
“January painted a picture of divided fortunes with a slight improvement in town vacancy rates but decline in shopper footfall. The latter fell in line with the underlying trend of reduced customer activity in shopping destinations, compounded by the squeeze on discretionary spending. Meanwhile retail sales continue to be buoyed by inflation, masking the lack of real growth,” said Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief-Executive of BRC.
“The more positive picture for vacancy rates over the last quarter is marginal. The Christmas trading period traditionally sees a boost in temporary lets, as landlords get creative with the flexible use of space to create pop-ups. This was particularly evident in London this year due to its denser physical retail offer. The long term trend is that vacancies remain stubbornly at around 9 per cent, albeit much higher in many areas.
“If we look beyond the seasonal distortion, the pressures to rationalise and downsize store portfolios are continuing to build as structural and technological change gains momentum. Given that planning applications for new shops have fallen for the ninth year in a row, the mounting cost of property taxation will inevitably mean more empty shops on the high street.
“Retailing is about digital and face to face interactions with customers and how the different channels complement each other. Having a business tax system that works to support that, not undermine it, is what the country needs and what we remain committed to work in partnership with Government to deliver.”