RETAIL experts have warned the high street is facing “ever more polarised demand” from consumers as online sales and the popularity of out-of-town shopping centres have been blamed for the highest number of empty shops in more than four years.
Figures released yesterday have shown that the national vacancy rate was 10.3 per cent in July, the highest since January 2015.
The research for the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-Springboard monitor also revealed that footfall also fell by 1.9 per cent last month, marking the worst decline for July since 2012.
Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the BRC, said retailers had faced a “challenging environment”.
She added: “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.”
The figures showed high street footfall declined by 2.7 per cent last month, while footfall at shopping centres fell by 3.1 per cent. Retail parks fared better, with a 1.2 per cent increase in footfall.
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Diane Wehrle, a marketing and insights director at retail data analysts, Springboard, said: “Consumer demand is ever more polarised between convenience and experience, and the stronger performance of out-of-town destinations reflects the fact that retail parks are successfully bridging the convenience-experience gap.”
She said consumers were being lured to out-of-town retail parks for a host of reasons, including free parking and “click and collect” services for online orders, as well as leisure facilities including gyms and restaurants.
Ms Dickinson urged the Government to take action to relieve the pressure on the high street.
“Currently, retail accounts for five per cent of the economy, yet pays 10 per cent of all business costs and 25 per cent of all business taxes,” she said. “The rising vacancy figures show this is simply not sustainable.”
Boris Johnson pledged in June to “save Britain’s high streets”, as he campaigned to become Prime Minister. He unveiled measures designed to help retailers deal with the rise of online shopping – including planning reforms and free-to-use ATMs.
Last month was also the worst July on record for year-on-year growth in total retail sales.
Figures from the BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor showed sales edged up by just 0.3 per cent year-on-year in July, compared with an increase of 1.6 per cent in July 2018.
The Yorkshire Post’s Love Your High Street campaign was launched in October to raise awareness of the challenges faced by the retail sector.