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Footfall down in January

‘Tough times ahead’ as fewer shop on high streets

Prince St retail shoppingFewer shoppers are hitting Scottish high streets amid warnings of “tougher things to come” this year.

Nine per cent of Scottish shops are vacant – or one in 11 – as retailers say the tail off in footfall in January was the steepest monthly decline since July last year, the month after the Brexit vote.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, Scottish Retail Consortium head of policy & external affairs, said the overall footfall dip “is a concern after what was otherwise a good Christmas trading period performance.”

Retail parks performed better, seeing a rise in the number of shoppers, although shopping centres had a “tough month”.

Mr MacDonald-Russell said: “What these figures show is that trading conditions continue to be tough for physical retailers.

“With shopper footfall easing down at a time when cost pressures from public policy are building it’s vital in the short term at least that government doesn’t add further additional burdens to retailers already struggling with rates bills and apprenticeship levies, or to consumers facing rising council tax bills.

“However, the current situation is not sustainable, and it’s clear that fundamental reform of the punitive business rates system is urgently needed to take the pressure off hard pressed retailers.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director of data compiler Springboard, said: “The 1.3% drop in footfall across the UK’s bricks and mortar destinations in January may be a sign of tougher things to come for 2017. 

“Not only was it a noticeably larger drop than the 0.2% in December, it was the steepest decline since June 2016, when footfall was impacted in the preceding weeks and in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum.”

As it did across the UK, in Scotland the decline in footfall accelerated to -1.3% in January from -0.3% in December.  In contrast with the UK, however, footfall in Scotland’s retail parks rose by +3.7% in January, a strong performance compared with the drop of -3.2% in Scotland in December and -0.4% in UK retail parks in January.

The vacancy rate in Scotland at 9% is lower than the UK rate of 9.4%  and has dropped from 9.2% in October. 

The vacancy rate reflects footfall and sales, lagging behind both of these, which helps to explain this rise as it follows two consecutive months of rising footfall in Scotland. 

Ms Wehrle said: “The UK rate has improved from 9.5% in October which demonstrates that retail destinations are adapting – the goal for Scotland’s destinations is to keep pace.

Highlights for four weeks 1 January – 28 January

  • The town centre vacancy rate for Scotland was 9% in January 2017, a short drop from the rate of 9.2% in October 2016. This is lower than the average vacancy rate for the UK, which dropped to 9.4% in January 2017 from 9.5% in October 2016.
  • Footfall fell by 1.1% year-on-year in Scotland in January, the steepest fall since July 2016, and deeper than the three-month average of -0.3%, but above the twelve-month average of -1.3%.
  • Footfall fell on the High Street and in Shopping Centres, but rose in Retail Parks, the second highest rise of all the nations/regions in this particular destination.

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