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Dip in weekend visitors to English high streets more likely to be down to the weather than face masks: Springboard

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The number of people visiting shops in the UK continued to rise last week, although visitor numbers dipped slightly over the weekend. It became mandatory to wear a facemask to protect against the spread of Covid-19 when visiting shops in England on Friday, but Springboard suggests the dip in visitor numbers may be because of heavy rain rather than avoiding having to mask up.

However, visitor numbers are still down by a third compared to the same time last year, with year-on-year comparisons improving gradually.

The latest Springboard figures suggest that UK footfall rose by 4.4% last week compared to the week before, with visitors to shops in Wales (+8.7%), Northern Ireland (+9.4%) and Scotland (+6.4%) growing faster than in England (+4%). 

Across the UK, visitor numbers were up compared to the previous week on high streets (+5.2%), retail parks (+2.4%) and in shopping centres (+4.8%). But they were down by more than a third (-38.4%) compared to the same time last year both across the UK and a while, and on high streets (-45.7%) and shopping centres (-40.9%). Visitors to retail parks were down by 19.9%.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “Last week delivered another first – the first time that wearing a face covering became mandatory in retail stores and enclosed destinations in England. The first few days of the latest government guidelines has not yet delivered conclusive evidence of its impact on activity in bricks and mortar destinations, however it is positive news for retailers that the annual performance is continuing to improve.” 

Looking at the Saturday alone, visitor numbers dipped in England (-3.2%) and Northern Ireland (-0.7%) compared to the previous week but remained higher in Wales (+3.9%), Scotland (+1.9%). Both England and Scotland require shoppers to wear face masks, while Northern Ireland and Wales do not.

Footfall was down most sharply on last week on high streets in England (-7.7%) and up most strongly in shopping centres in Scotland (+10.2%) and retail parks in Northern Ireland (+11.4%).  Springboard suggests that heavy rain on Saturday may have been a factor in keeping high street visitor numbers down, and shopping centre and retail park numbers up. 

It said: “On Friday and Saturday, the first two days where face coverings in England became mandatory in retail stores, footfall in retail destinations declined by an average of -1.7%. England was the only nation where footfall declined on these two days, rising by an average of +2.7% in Wales and +1.8% in Northern Ireland. However, in Scotland which is the only other nation where face coverings are mandatory, footfall rose by an average of +5.3% on Friday and Saturday, which suggests that others factors are likely to have come into play.”

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