Retail gloom as UK stays at home

Ben Southwood
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SHOPPERS have been deserting the UK’s struggling retailers since the start of the year, adding to gloom in the sec- tor as sales fall for the first time in years and well-established firms col- lapse into administration.

Total UK retail footfall sunk 4.6 per cent over the year to January, data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard revealed this morning, the sharpest drop for nine months. Even including the busy Christmas shopping period footfall is on the slide, coming in 1.7 per cent lower than the same period a year before in the three months from November to January.

While retail parks and shopping cen- tres avoided the worst of the retail bloodbath in 2012, their run of good fortune came to an end at the turn of the year. Footfall crashed 7.2 per cent in out-of-town retail parks and 5.2 per cent in shopping centres in the year to January, compared to a 3.3 per cent fall in visitors to the high street.

Even Greater London was pulled into a 1.1 per cent decline. The worst-per- forming region was the north and Yorkshire, where footfall dived by 8.3 per cent over the year.

The latest figures come as designers and buyers flock to the capital for London Fashion Week, with high- street names Topshop and River Island hosting catwalk shows over the week- end alongside luxury brands Mulberry and Vivienne Westwood.

Speaking backstage at the Topshop show yesterday, Arcadia Group chief executive Sir Philip Green said e-com- merce was reshaping the way con- sumers spend, driving shoppers away from bricks and mortar stores.

“If you talk to nearly any retailer and ask if they’d like to have fewer shops, yes they would,” he told Sky News.

But the BRC suggested that snowfall was to blame for the poor retail traffic, and claimed that shoppers were actu- ally spending more despite making fewer visits to stores.

“The mid-month snow took its toll on numbers of people out braving the elements, especially when making journeys to out-of-town retail parks,” said BRC boss Helen Dickinson.

But official numbers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the volume of retail sales fell 0.6 per cent over the year to January – bringing an abrupt end to 17 months of growth.