By Daniel Hunter
Footfall in October was 2.9% lower than a year ago, down on the 2.4% fall in September. On a three-month rolling basis, this is the worst performance since the start of the year, excluding Easter distortions, reflected in the BRC/Springboard Footfall Vacancy Monitor.
High streets reported the greatest fall, down 3.6%, followed by shopping centres, unchanged from September's 2.9% decline. Footfall in out-of-town locations improved slightly to -1.2%.
The East was the only region to report positive footfall growth, up 0.8% compared with a year earlier.
The national town centre vacancy rate in the UK was 11.1% in October 2013, unchanged from July's rate.
Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: "It's disappointing to see shopper numbers falling again after September's slowdown, with only one area of the UK showing growth. Although recent months have hinted at economic recovery, many of us are still cautious and keen to manage budgets ahead of Christmas.
"High street and shopping centre footfall both took a hit in October, while out-of-town fared a little better. This trend partially reflects our recent sales figures, which showed that furniture and homewares — often sited in retail parks — had a decent showing while other categories were more subdued, especially fashion.
"Although the proportion of empty shops in the UK is unchanged, it's again masking widespread variations. There are nearly twelve percentage points between London's vacancy rate and Northern Ireland's, and the latter's increase is coupled with an equally worrying steep drop in shopper numbers.
"Despite the tentative optimism in the air, it's clear that conditions remain challenging. Retailers will be hoping that a festive boost to browsing and buying puts things back on a more even keel over the coming months."
Diane Wehrle, Retail Insights Director at Springboard, said: "Footfall trends have now been on an accelerating downward slide for three months from an annual fall of just -0.9 per cent in August, to -2.4 per cent in September and then to -2.9 per cent in October. And, in October, as the weather worsened high streets bore more of the brunt, losing out to shopping centres with footfall dropping annually by -3.6 per cent compared with -2.9 per cent in shopping centres.
"The likelihood of the weather being at least part of the issue is substantiated by the fact that this replicates a similar trend to October last year when high streets recorded a drop in footfall which was 0.5 percentage point greater than in shopping centres. Out-of-town locations have clearly been the most resilient, with an annual drop in footfall of less than half that recorded in shopping centres and a third of the drop in high street footfall — clearly the result of the recorded demand for leisure, household and games products.
"The vacancy rate has not increased over the last three months, despite footfall dropping by an average of -2.1 per cent compared with an average increase of 0.1 per cent in the previous quarter. However, this may be a function of the proximity of the impending Christmas trading period, and an imminent and much hoped for uplift in trading performance that could secure the future for some retailers."
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