Shopping centres are filling empty shops at a faster rate than town centres, new research has shown.
The British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) and the Local Data Company (LDC) analysed new vacancy rates across the UK, with the resulting Shopping Centre Vacancy Monitor showing a year-on-year improvement of 0.8% – that’s 242 fewer empty shops in shopping centres.
The research reveals gaping regional variations, however, with the North East not faring as well as Southern counterparts, bit complexes like intu Metrocentre and intu Eldon Square are still finding new tenants for empty shops at a faster rate than town centres.
Unsurprisingly, the South East shows the greatest reduction in the number of empty shops in England with a 3.7% change.
However, the North East showed a 2.4% increase in vacancies, many of which were in towns with an oversupply of retail space.
The figure also rose in the North West by 4.4%.
Improving at the fastest rate are Welsh shopping centres, with a significantly reduced number of empty shops showing a change of 5.2% on 2013.
Meanwhile shopping centres in Scotland outflank their English counterparts with an improvement of 2.2% cent compared to only 0.5% in England.
London makes a below-average improvement at 0.6%.
This latest research also shows a significant variation in the ratio of independent retailers to chain stores in British shopping centres.
Within the top thirty shopping centres, less than one in five shops is an independent retailer.
However, across all 685 shopping centres, this climbs to a massive 49% of shops leased to independent operators.
Since 2013, landlords have been converting one shop per day from retail to leisure use, for example to hotels, cinemas, restaurants and bars.
The research demonstrates that shopping centres are evolving to keep pace with consumer needs to make better use of leisure time under one roof: dining next to shops next to cinemas is what shoppers expect and the market is changing accordingly.
BCSC and LDC have launched a strategic research partnership to explore the health of the UK shopping centre market, level of vacancy rates and the ratio of retail, leisure and independent operators.
Michael Green, chief executive of BCSC, said: “It is positive to see shopping centres reducing the numbers of empty shops and doing so at a faster rate than the towns in which they sit.
“As they are managed as single entities, with management strategies to match, they are well-placed to adapt to changing retail dynamics. I
“It is clear that these changes will result in a need for an increasingly diverse mix of businesses.
“Particularly as a number of traditional retailers look to consolidate the amount of physical space from which they trade.”
“Contrary to popular opinion, independent retailers now account for one out of every two shops in British shopping centres.
“We expect this to increase over the next six months as more and more shopping centre owners look to vary what they are offering to their shoppers.
“There is, of course, no doubt that where a shopping centre is struggling - usually because of an oversupply of retail space - it is the large chain stores that leave first: independents, in extreme cases, can be the last people standing.
“Overall, the data shows that it is shopping centres who are quick to adapt to fast-changing customer habits. Shopping centre owners are working hard to fill empty shops and, with almost 250 extra businesses trading now than this time last year, it is clearly paying off.”