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2021 ends on a small high for High Street retailers as footfall picks up

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For physical retailers, the last week of the year ended on somewhat of a high, with footfall up 5.2% on New Year’s Eve compared to Christmas eve. However, footfall dropped by -15% across all UK retail destinations last week versus the week before (the run up to Christmas), by -11.8% in high streets, -17.5% in retail parks and -19.2% in shopping centres.

This is a sharp contrast with New Year’s Eve 2019 when high street footfall declined by -9% from the week before.

Notably, in both years, New Year’s Eve footfall in Central London rose from the week before, but this year footfall in Central London rose by a staggering +54.8% compared with +22.7% on New Year’s Eve in 2019. This uplift wasn’t replicated in other city centres around the UK where footfall on New Year’s Eve was -0.8% lower than on Christmas Eve.

Although, footfall also rose in historic town centres on New Year’s Eve (by +7.3), and in Outer London (+5%) but declined by -8.2% in market towns.

Over the seven days as a whole, versus the week before all three destination types recorded double digit declines in activity with -11.8% in high streets, -17.5% in retail parks and -19.2% in shopping centres. However, the gap between last week and the week before narrowed from day to day as the week progressed; on Sunday (Boxing Day) footfall was -43% lower than the previous Sunday but by Friday (New Year’s Eve) this had narrowed to -6.4% from Friday in the previous week (Christmas Eve). 

The final week of the year ended with footfall in UK retail destinations -24.5% below the 2019 level, but +78% higher than the level in 2020.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, comments: “Despite the well documented cautiousness of shoppers in the run up to and over Christmas this year, it appears that on New Year’s Eve there was a shift in behaviour with footfall in high streets increasing from the week before (Christmas Eve).  Not only was this the only day last week when high street footfall was higher than the week before, but it was also in sharp contrast with New Year’s Eve 2019 when high street footfall was lower on New Year’s Eve than on Christmas Eve. The winners on New Year’s Eve were Central London and historic town centres where footfall rose significantly from the week before, whilst declining in smaller local high streets.

“Overall, footfall last week, which began on Boxing Day and ended on New Year’s Day, was inevitably lower than in the preceding week which was the run up to Christmas and ended on Christmas Day.”

Wehrle  continues: “The comparison with 2019 also continued to be unfavourable, with a noticeable drop from two years ago, however, some of this is due to the date offset as the equivalent week in 2019 began on 29th December and ended on 4th January so missing the days immediately post-Christmas when footfall is at its lowest.

“Last week was far more closely aligned to the same week in 2020 when there was only a one day offset (the week began on 27th December in 2020 rather than 26th December this year).  However, the introduction of more severe restrictions immediately following Christmas last year meant that the uplift in footfall this year from 2020 increased significantly.”

Wehrle concludes: “Footfall across all UK retail destinations was lower than the previous week on every day bar Saturday (New Year’s Day), which was a trading day while Saturday in the week before was Christmas Day when all stores were closed. As the week progressed, footfall remained lower than the week before, although it did strengthen, with the most favourable result on Friday (New Year’s Eve).”

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