Shoppers 'Shunning High Street'

Shoppers are increasingly shunning high street stores in favour of out-of-town retailers, new figures suggest.

One in every 10 town centre retail premises lay empty last month, according to a report by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and Springboard.

Overall, shopper numbers in January were 3% down on the previous year, marking the first decline since June.

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said the drop in footfall was largely accounted for by a 6.9% dip in high street shopper numbers, driven by the rising popularity of online click-and-collect services.

She said: "As it did for virtually all of 2014, footfall continued to increase in out-of-town locations in January and, whilst footfall dropped in shopping centres for the fifth month in a row, the drop of 1% was the most modest decline for the last five months.

"Despite the fact that high streets and shopping centres still account for the majority of our shopping floor space, the on-going strengthening of out-of-town locations is clear evidence that urban shopping locations are losing market share.

"Without doubt this is due to both the challenge of the internet and the convenience of out-of-town locations for click-and-collect as they offer plentiful, accessible parking that is free of charge.''

Scotland's retail vacancy rate of 9.7% was higher than the 9% recorded in the previous quarter, but lower than the 10.4% across the UK.

Ms Wehrle said: "This, in combination with the fact a significant number of retail leases are due to expire over this year, suggests that this could rise further in the coming months - particularly as consumers are now demanding discounts, which squeeze margins and adversely impact profitability and long term business sustainability.''

David Lonsdale, SRC director, said: "We've grown accustomed in Scotland in recent months to encouraging trends on shopper footfall and retail vacancies and so hopefully these figures will prove to be only a temporary blip.

"The industry continues to undergo profound structural change and this is testing the business model of every retailer.

"Ultimately, though, the health of the sector will be affected by state of the overall economy, which is why we look to the Chancellor's Budget next month and the upcoming UK General Election for measures which will increase consumer confidence, boost disposable incomes and encourage retailers to invest.''

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