Shop vacancies top 10% mark

There are currently more empty shop units on UK high-streets than at any point in the last 15 months, according to new figures.

The town centre vacancy rate topped 10% in July for the first time since April 2015, according to the British Retail Consortium’s Springboard footfall and vacancies monitor.

It is only the second time this year that vacancies have increased on a monthly basis, with BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson attributing it to the ‘heavy burden of property costs’.

Describing the rise as a ‘bitter disappointment to many’, she suggests that it could be a sign of a shift in market trends.

Improved technology is influencing the way that people shop, as they are now looking for a personalised experience and close ties between physical and digital assets, she claims.

Having a physical shopping space is no longer an essential, especially given the high levels of property tax that exist in the UK – small businesses operating on tight margins can ill afford the costs for property in prime locations.

If business rates continue to rise, the BRC has voiced concerns that the high-street scene will suffer further, with more businesses forced into insolvency.

Having a contingency plan in place is recommended, as it can provide an alternative set of options to ensure that a firm can continue to trade effectively.

Footfall in July was down 0.4% from 12 months previously, which is an improvement on the 2.8% decline noted in the year until June.

Shopping centre footfall has also dropped drastically in recent months, falling by 2% and 2.3% in July and June respectively.

According to Diane Wehrle, Marketing and Insights Director at Springboard, the second quarter can be an irregular one as many seasonal shops disappear from the high-street.

She suggested that the economic uncertainty that accompanied the EU referendum may also have had an impact as retailers were deterred from taking on new leases.

By Phil Smith

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