By Daniel Hunter
Footfall in January was 4.6% lower than a year ago, a poorer performance than the 1.2% fall in December, according to the British Retail Consortium. This is the weakest footfall figure since April 2012 when shopper numbers declined 6.9%.
Snow hit shopper numbers across the country during the second half of the month which had a noticeable impact on the figures.
Footfall weakened in all three locations compared with a year earlier. Out-of-town locations reported the greatest fall (-7.2%) followed by shopping centres (-5.2%) and high street (-3.3%) locations.
The national town centre vacancy rate in the UK was 10.9% in January 2013, down from 11.3% in October 2012.
Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: "This steep drop in footfall is obviously a cause for concern but, as our sales figures showed last week, fewer shoppers on the streets doesn't seem to have dented sales growth in January. 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, but it seems that many of us stayed one step ahead of the big chill and bought more on fewer shopping trips.
"It's good news that the vacancy rate is slightly down on October 2012's record high. However, the UK average masks widespread variations, with Wales recording a particularly high rate compared with the previous quarter.
"If the Government wants to support reducing the vacancy rate further, it could really help by freezing business rates in April. The rising cost of doing business is a looming threat to the future health of retailers and high streets."
Diane Wehrle, Research Director at Springboard, said: "Despite an encouraging start following a strong period of Boxing Day sales, the decline in footfall on the high street of -3.3% in January is the largest since 2010 with the severe weather undoubtedly deterring customers from venturing out to shop during a period when they were already stretched from Christmas.
"The greater decline in footfall in retail parks of -7.2% is a function of this, as shoppers were no doubt reluctant to drive in precarious conditions. What is unusual — particularly in the winter — is that the high street fared better than shopping centres which recorded a decline in footfall of -5.2%. One possible reason for this is the greater diversity of high streets which provide a wide ranging offer and a greater representation of independents.
"The national vacancy rate now stands at 10.9%, which is a slight reduction from 11.3% in October. However, the key finding here is that vacancies in particular regions have increased significantly over the past three months, e.g. an increase from 15.1% to 17.0% in Wales which may be a reflection of the impact of the recent closure of key high street names.
"The premise that high vacancy rates tend to perpetuate low footfall appears to hold true with a decline in footfall of -10.1% in Wales alongside an increase in a vacancy rate of 1.9% from October compared with an increase in footfall in the West Midlands of 5.3 percentage points alongside a vacancy rate that has fallen over the last three months by 0.7%."
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