Norwich stores are dreaming of a bright Christmas period for sales
- Credit: Archant
Norwich's retail economy is going from strength to strength, according to research underscoring the city's reputation as a shopping hotspot.
The city's retail sector is enjoying growing footfall and a drop in the number of empty shops, despite continued pressure from the rise of online shopping.
It comes as anecdotal evidence suggests that there is 'pent-up demand' from big name stores and independent retailers looking to move into the city.
And the picture looks set to become even brighter when retailers gear up for a pre-Christmas sales boost on Black Friday.
But while Norfolk market towns have also recorded low vacancy rates, the fall has been partly caused by government changes to planning rules which allow empty shops to be converted into homes.
According to Norwich's Business Improvement District (BID), footfall in the city was up 2.2pc year-on-year in 2015, compared to a 1.3pc fall across the UK.
Meanwhile, shop vacancy rates in Norwich fell from 11.3pc in 2014 to 11.1pc this year, the Norwich City Council's retail monitor has found.
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Stefan Gurney, executive director of the Norwich BID, said: 'This is great news for Norwich, especially with figures indicating that some of the secondary retail areas of the city are performing well and that the city has a healthy vacancy rate ahead of the national average.'
Adrian Fennell, retail and leisure specialist at Norwich-based Roche Chartered Surveyors, has witnessed a 'pent-up demand' from big name brands and internet retailers searching for space in Norwich.
'Norwich is doing well and retail availability is at an all-time low,' he said. 'Retailers are struggling to find representation in the city centre.
'There are a number of retailers which are interested in Norwich, but cannot find the right location or size, so in that respect Norwich is in a much improved situation than it was a year ago, or three years ago.
'It is getting stronger every year and the retail centre is getting better because its dominance within the region is increasing and Norwich is recognised as a retail city.'
He added: 'The market and the strength of the internet means that it will always remain a challenge for retailers, but the high street also provides an opportunity for internet retailers who have started out online and now want a bricks-and-mortar shop. We get retailers ringing us up which are internet-based for two to three years and want to try it in a shop.'
A spokesman from Norwich City Council added: 'The headlines from our retail monitor report will show once again that retailing in Norwich is thriving compared with many other places in the country. Details are still being analysed and the full results are due to be published next week.'
Elsewhere, Norfolk's market towns have seen vacancy rates drop from 6.8pc in 2013, to 4.7pc this year, research by Norfolk County Council's economic development team has found.
Swaffham has emerged as a stand-out success story after it drove down the number of vacant shops from 16 in 2013 to just two this year.
But the drop in vacancy rates could be caused by the government's decision to relax the planning rules and allow commercial properties to become residential.
Norfolk County Council's Market Towns report 2015 discovered that there were now 151 fewer shop units in Norfolk than there were two years ago, falling from 2,822 in 2013 to 2,731 this year. David Dukes, economic development manager, said: 'What seems to be happening is the number of retail units in total across our market towns has diminished slightly. They are getting converted into houses.'
However, UK retailers are more confident of achieving bumper sales this Christmas thanks to a shot in the arm from Black Friday, on November 27, a report has found.
More than three quarters (77pc) of UK retailers expect a better festive sales performance this year, while 79pc believe revenues will rise, according to the Barclays Christmas Survey.
It revealed that 77pc of retailers will hold a Black Friday promotion, showing how the American discount day, where shops slash prices on the fourth Friday in November, is gaining traction in the UK.
Do you have a business story? Contact business editor Ben Woods on 01603 772426.