Shifting trends in UK retail sales

With a combined annual footfall of over a billion people, retailers operating out of Network Rail’s estimated 560,000 sq ft of retail space at Britain’s 16 biggest and busiest stations are seeing a surge in sales.

Britain’s Network Rail is reporting a 5.17% increase in like-for-like retail sales during the first quarter of 2011, compared to the same period last year, according to a recent article published by the Retail Bulletin. This impressive growth comes after a similar 5.02% increase during the last quarter of 2010.

London stations recorded some of the best performances, with Euston (11.6%), London Bridge (7.29%) and Charing Cross (6.9%) posting high numbers over the quarter. Edinburgh and Leeds stations also achieved strong results, with 8.5% and 6.3% growth respectively. Food and grocery categories showed the strongest growth levels, with supermarkets reporting 13%, specialist food catering brands 10.8%, and restaurants 10.2% increases in sales.

According to Jane Bevis, director of public affairs at the British Retail Consortium, “these figures contrast markedly with the experience on high streets due to the strong footfall through Network Rail stations and the heavy London skew. They also demonstrate how shoppers are topping up at convenience stores, having managed the main weekly shopping budget very carefully.” High-street shops appear to be fizzling out, and the media and industry alike are taking note. The Confederation of British Industry stated that grocery stores posted their slowest growth rate since March 2009, and clothing stores their weakest performance since January 2010.

But high-street shops aren’t taking this lying down. As reported recently in The Guardian, out-of-town retail vacancies were at a three-year low of 9.2% at the end of 2010, after shops such as Argos and Next snatched up vacant buildings in less central areas. This trend is worthy of notice.

Vacancy rates in out-of-town shopping centres were at 8.3% in 2007 before the recession and rose to 11.6% by 2009. However, the average vacancy rate on the high street is 15%, according to figures The Guardian pulled from the Local Data Company. This shift towards less central shopping happened after many retailers collapsed or sold off shops, leaving hundreds of retail spaces across the country empty. The Guardian reported that while high-street retailers would have previously ignored high-ceilinged retail sheds, times are changing in a post-recession world.

Top image credit: Masson

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