Mixed picture for Scottish high street retailers

Scottish retailers have seen footfall rise for the third month in a row though the number of vacant shop units has also increased.
Footfall numbers were 1.1 per cent higher in April, year-on-year. Picture: TSPLFootfall numbers were 1.1 per cent higher in April, year-on-year. Picture: TSPL
Footfall numbers were 1.1 per cent higher in April, year-on-year. Picture: TSPL

The latest report from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and Springboard – published today – shows footfall numbers were 1.1 per cent higher in April, year-on-year, but the store vacancy rate hit 10.4 per cent, up from 9.7 per cent earlier this year.

The rise in vacancies, which is above the UK average, is partly being put down to the expiry of many leases at the end of the financial year.

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Industry bosses are calling on the Scottish Government to step up its town centres plan to improve accessibility, create more affordable parking and ease the cost of doing business. The increase in footfall in Scotland comes as there is a fall in the UK average.

SRC director David Lonsdale said: “Like the curate’s egg, these figures are excellent in part. Footfall in Scotland’s shopping destinations has sprouted for a third successive month.

“Indeed, shopper footfall has shown positive growth in Scotland in ten of the last 12 months, outshining the rest of the UK and at a time when the popularity of online retailing has never been greater.

“Less encouraging, though, is the spike in the shop vacancy rate in our town centres. Vacancies have risen for a second successive quarter and with one in every ten retail premises now empty, the vacancy rate in Scotland now lies a smidgen above that of the UK as a whole.

“The SRC wants to see further momentum injected into the government’s town centres agenda.”

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, added: “The major downside for Scotland in April is a significant increase in its vacancy rate from 9.7 per cent, to 10.4 per cent over the three months from January, and for the first time since April 2014 it is now higher than the prevailing UK rate of 10.2 per cent.

“The sudden rise in the vacancy rate in Scotland is likely to be an indication of the adverse impact of the increasing number of retail leases that are expiring, offering retailers an opportunity to vacate units that are no longer in viable trading locations.

“The fact that this has impacted on Scotland’s towns and cities to a greater degree than the UK as a whole despite the growth of omni-channel shopping behaviour suggests a more challenging trading period ahead.”

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She added that a polarisation of shopper activity noted in the last report was continuing, with the increase in footfall of 9.5 per cent in Scotland’s out-of-town retail parks being “far more significant” than a modest rise of 0.5 per cent across the UK.

Many of those extra visitors appear to have come from traditional shopping centres where footfall fell by 5.1 per cent.