Retailers enjoyed their biggest jump in footfall last month in almost two years after disappointing Christmas when shoppers shunned the high street in favour of buying online.
Traffic to stores on the high street, shopping centres and retail parks rose by 1.2 per cent in January compared with a year ago, figures from retail analysts Springboard and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) today reveal.
This was in stark contrast with the 2.2 per cent decline reported in December and was the best footfall performance since January 2014, when excluding distortions for the different timings of Easter.
Retail parks led the way, with visitor numbers increasing by 5.2 per cent year-on-year compared with December’s 2.1 per cent rise – its best performance for two years.
High street shops bounced back from a four per cent decline in December to report a 0.2 per cent rise in footfall. This is the first time the high street has recorded an improvement in traffic since July 2013.
Meanwhile footfall growth in shopping centres was broadly flat in January. However this was ahead of the three month average decline rate of 1.6 per cent.
Consumers returning to bricks and mortar stores also coincided with a drop in the shop vacancy rate, from 9.1 per cent in October last year to 8.7 per cent in January. Like-for-like retail sales also improved, up 2.6 per cent last month, separate BRC figures show.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said the fall in vacancy rates was “encouraging” against a backdrop in which online shopping is growing ever more popular.
However she warned that the pressures facing the retail sector remained unchanged: “The fact remains that one in every eleven retail premises in our town centres lies empty.”
“The current business rates system, in which rates bills only ever seem to rise, is wholly inadequate to the task ahead and so it is imperative that the Chancellor capitalises on the conclusion of the review next month to introduce a system which flexes with economic conditions and leads to a substantially lower tax burden,” Dickinson added.