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Footfall climbs again in August, but physical retail still struggling

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Mask-wearing shoppers are increasingly heading to the high street, with two separate studies showing that footfall again climbed in August – however, it still lags way behind where it was last year.

The latest footfall figures for non-food stores to be released by Ipsos Retail Performance show that in August, shopper numbers were down by -41.7% year-on-year, far better than the -53.0% fall in July.  Average weekly numbers bounced up by +18.8% compared to July 2020, an improvement on the +12.7% rise in July vs June comparison.

Springboard also finds that UK retail footfall continued to strengthen for the third consecutive month, with a drop of -30.8% from last year, as the Government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme enticed visitors back to UK retail destinations. All three destination types – local, coastal and retail parks – benefited, although retail parks remain a clear winner in the competition for shoppers, with footfall in July just 11.1% lower than in 2019. 

Springboard believes that, as many continue to work from home and shop locally, smaller high streets have continued to benefit; footfall in market towns was down by -26.6% on last year in August versus -38.3% across all UK high streets. Coastal towns have also performed strongly with footfall down -24.4% from August 2019, as the shifting quarantine regulations have led to a summer of staycations.

It also finds that vacancy rates are growing and that this gap between cities and more local shops is part of a wider trend that retailer need to watch.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, explains: “The importance of large cities in the ongoing evolution of bricks and mortar retailing needs to be emphasised; in 2019 regional cities across the UK attracted three times the volume of footfall compared to UK high streets, and these greater volumes of footfall are required to support new store formats and environments now demanded by shoppers. But with footfall in regional cities still 50.3% lower than in 2019 versus an annual decline of just -11.1% in retail parks it suggests that out of town locations may become even more attractive to retailers.”

Dr. Tim Denison, Director of Retail Intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance, adds: “August is usually a quieter month than July, but the reverse was true this year. Weekly footfall levels in non-food shops rose in each of its four weeks, reflecting both the growing confidence in masking up and going into shops and the greater number of people deciding to stay in the UK this summer rather than venturing abroad on holiday. Retailers also played a significant part by offering heavy promotions to encourage shoppers back into stores.”

Denison says” “We are now entering a period of transition, as we move into the key period of the retail year. With students going back to school and university, the end of ‘Eat Out to Help Out’, the economy officially moving into recession and companies beginning to pay some of the furlough costs, these changes bring with them new uncertainties.”

He concludes: “How they will influence the speed of recovery in household spend generally, and the retail sector in particular, is difficult to judge. What is certain above all else is that further recuperation is dependent on people remaining disciplined in how they go about their daily lives.”

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