Number of empty shops in UK town centres continues to rise

High Street, Southend-on-Sea, England. Photo credit: Beata May [CC BY-SA 3.0]
The number of empty shops in UK town centres continues to rise.

According to the latest British Retail Consortium and Springboard survey, the vacancy rate in town centres was 10.3% in July 2019 – the highest it has been in four years.

The vacancy rate has increased in every quarter since January 2018, demonstrating the continued challenges that many traditional brick and mortar retailers face.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive, British Retail Consortium, said:

“Retailers have faced a challenging environment this month, with declines in footfall on High Streets and Shopping Centres. Sluggish sales growth and declining footfall also contributed to the rise in town centre vacancies, which rose to their highest level since January 2015.

“High streets and town centres play an important part in our local communities, and we should be concerned by the rise in empty store fronts.”

Decline in footfall

Empty shopfronts can deter shoppers from an area, affecting footfall for all other businesses in the same area.

Overall footfall declined by 1.9% last month (year-on-year), making it the worst July in seven years.

High Street footfall dropped by 2.7%, while shopping centre footfall fell by 3.1%.

In contrast, footfall in retail parks rose by 1.2%.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard insights director, noted that the increase in footfall in retail parks reflects the fact that they are “successfully bridging the convenience-experience gap.”

Ms Wehrle said:

“Consumer demand is ever-more polarised between convenience and experience, and the stronger performance of out of town destinations where footfall rose by 1.2% in July reflects the fact that retail parks are successfully bridging the convenience-experience gap.

“They not only offer consumers accessible shopping environments with free parking and easy click and collect opportunities for online purchases, but many also combine this with an enhanced experience that includes coffee shops and casual dining restaurants, and some also have leisure facilities.”