The proportion of shops lying empty in Scotland’s town centres rose to more than one-in-10 last month, according to figures published today.
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said the 10.5% vacancy rate, which is above the UK-wide average, was a “cause for concern,” but welcomed a slight increase in footfall north of the border that bucked the national trend last month.
The research showed the number of empty shops had crept up from 9.8% in July.
Scotland was the only part of the UK to see growth in the number of shoppers last month, with a 1.8% rise in visits to High Street stores and an overall increase of 0.4%, according to the latest figures compiled by the SRC and retail research specialists Springboard.
A 2.3% decline in footfall at retail parks was the worst seen since March, but Scotland was the only part of Britain where visits to shopping centres increased, with a 0.2% rise.
Mr Lonsdale said: “These are undoubtedly testing times for retailers, particularly for larger stores and retail chains, as evidenced by several well-known high street brands having stumbled or tumbled in recent weeks.
“The spike in the shop vacancy rate in our town centres, piercing through 10% and nudging above the UK average, is a cause for concern.
“We cannot get away from the fact that more than one in every 10 retail premises in our town centres is lying vacant, a visible reminder of why a reduction in business rates – which are at a 20-year high – is so important.”
He continued: “Given that backdrop, last month’s modest uplift in shopper footfall comes as welcome relief against a longer-term downward trend due to shifting shopping habits.
“While footfall growth was uneven across retail destinations, the increase does provide a chink of light at the start of the crucial ‘golden quarter’ of retail spend in the lead- up to Black Friday and Christmas.”
Springboard marketing and insights manager Diane Wehrle said: “Scotland was the only part of the UK in which footfall rose in October, with the +0.4% rise contrasting sharply with a drop of -3.2% across the UK.
“This is particularly good news in light of the prevailing political uncertainty which must be having a considerable impact on activity given the low level of consumer confidence, and the poor weather in the last week of the month.
“However, all of the increase in footfall emanated from the second week of the month, when footfall rose by +3.9%,” she said.
“When confidence is low it doesn’t take much to deter shoppers and the torrential rain in the last week of the month hit footfall particularly hard, resulting in a drop in Scotland over those seven days of -2.7%,” she said.
“Unlike the UK as a whole, in Scotland it was retail parks that fared badly with a drop in footfall of -2.3% versus a decline of just -0.5% across the UK.
“Virtually all of the decline in retail parks was driven by a reduction in footfall of -4.5% over the second part of the month and of -5.8% in the last week.
“Consumers clearly felt that high streets and shopping centres, with their proximity and public transport access, were easier to navigate to in the rain, with footfall declining in the last week by just -2.2% in high streets and by -1.1% in shopping centres.”