Barbecue weather cooks up a retail revival

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The Independent Online

The retail sector enjoyed a mini-recovery on Britain's high streets last month, with customer numbers up and shop vacancy rates falling.

The heatwave helped to drive visitors to the UK's shops up by 0.8 per cent in July, against June's 0.1 per cent annual rise. July was the fourth month in positive territory this year.

High street stores were the main beneficiaries of the hot weather, with footfall up by 2.3 per cent last month as shoppers came out in force to buy their summer clothing and barbecue food, according to the British Retail Consortium and Springboard, the research firm. But the sweltering conditions meant that visitor traffic to out-of-town retail parks rose by a more modest 0.9 per cent while it fell by 2.3 per cent at shopping centres.

Diane Wehrle, the retail insights director at Springboard, said: "For the first time it seems that a longer-term improvement in footfall trends might be emerging."

This follows total sales increasing by 3.9 per cent last month, which was the strongest July trading since 2006, the BRC said. Despite this, many retailers remain cautious about the strength of the nascent recovery in consumer spending until real wages rise above inflation.

A further tonic came from UK town-centre shop vacancy rates falling to 11.1 per cent, compared with April's all-time high of 11.9 per cent.

Helen Dickinson, the BRC's director general, said: "It's encouraging to see that the number of empty shops in the UK has fallen marginally since the record high of the previous quarter. But it's still a stark statistic, which masks widespread variations – six parts of the UK had above average vacancy rates."

Northern Ireland continues to be the UK epicentre for empty shops, with a vacancy rate of 18 per cent, against Wales's 15.9 per cent and Scotland's 10.1 per cent.

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