Predictions of high street’s demise prove exaggerated

In January  high-street sales rose 0.2 per cent – the first increase for two and a half years

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The Independent Online

Predictions of the death of the high street have been knocked back, with new data revealing today that more consumers  flocked to stores last month to take advantage of the post-Christmas sales and late-night shopping, with the number of empty premises also down.

According to the latest monthly update from the British Retail Consortium and Springboard, the number of shoppers heading into city centres, shopping malls and retail parks rose 1.2 per cent in January compared with the same month a year ago. This was the first time all three types of shopping destination did not record a drop in footfall since December 2011.

High-street shopping has struggled in recent years, with consumers increasingly put off by a lack of city centre parking – opting to spend their cash with online retailers.

But in January high-street sales rose 0.2 per cent – the first increase for two and a half years. Retail parks continued to outperform, with sales up 5.2 per cent – way above the 3 per cent average. Shopping centre footfall was flat.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: “Spend on furniture, and hospitality, led the way. This potentially has longer-term benefits in increasing shoppers’ awareness of store offerings and driving up spend through longer ‘dwell’ times.”

Vacancy rates in town centres were also down – at 8.7 per cent in January, compared with 9.1 per cent in October last year.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, welcomed the improved vacancy rates on the high street but called on George Osborne to keep working on his delayed plans to overhaul business rates, which many retailers complain are crippling them. 

She said: “The fact remains that one in every eleven retail premises in our town centres lies empty. The current business rates system, in which rates bills only ever seem to rise, is wholly inadequate to the task ahead.”

Vacancy rates have mainly improved across the south of England and Greater London, with empty sites increasing in the north of England, Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales.