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Hallowe’en, half-term and perhaps Christmas bring shoppers back in-store in October: BRC/Sensormatic IQ

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Half-term and Hallowe’en helped to bring shoppers back into store in October, the latest footfall figures suggest. 

Early Christmas shopping may also be bringing shoppers into store, as the number of people going into shops improved in comparison to September. Nonetheless, visitor numbers are still lower than before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new BRC-Sensormatic IQ data.

The October figures continue to use two-year comparisons with the same time in 2019, removing the effect of disruption in 2020. It finds that total UK footfall was 13.7% lower in October than it was at the same time in 2019. The figure represents a 3.2 percentage point (pp) improvement from September, and is also ahead of the three month average 16% decline. 

The number of people visiting shopping centres is a third (-33.6%) lower than in October 2019, while the decline is less marked on high streets (-18.3%) and still less on retail parks (-0.4%), which have proved more popular both because of their out-of-town location, with free parking, and for the convenience of using multichannel services such as collection and in-store returns. 

All three location types showed an improvement compared to September, most notably on high streets (+4.3pp), followed by shopping centres (+2.6pp) and retail parks (+1.2pp).

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, says: “October’s footfall bounced back after the September slowdown, as traffic was bolstered by half term and Halloween – now retail’s third-biggest trading event after Christmas and Easter.  Halloween proved a welcomed excuse for seasonal socialising and helped consumer confidence around in-store shopping to remain un-spooked by the UK’s rising covid-19 infection rates.

“Some of the lift in footfall performance, which saw retail parks in particular rise to their highest point of recovery since the start of the pandemic, may also be attributed to early Christmas spend, as retailers brought forward Christmas range launches to help smooth out supply chain bumps ahead of the peak trading period and consumers also indicated they would shop earlier for the festive season this year.”

While footfall is still lower than it was before Covid, it is also recovering faster than in Spain (-19.8%), Germany (-26.1%), Italy (-34.6%) and France (-34.9%), according to the BRC-Sensormatic data. 

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, says: “It was great to see the UK leading the way for footfall in October among the major European economies. This gives more retailers a reason to be hopeful as we enter the crucial golden quarter, with many embracing both digital and physical connections with their customers, and indicates that retail is playing a key part in the economic recovery. Footfall in retail parks almost reached its pre-pandemic level with their attractive offer of larger stores and free parking.

“While many UK cities have seen a significant rise in footfall in recent months, the largest cities – London, Birmingham and Glasgow – continue to lag behind other areas. Lower tourism levels, more working from home and lower usage of public transport due to Covid have disproportionately affected these cities as a result, as well as holding back shopping in city centres across the UK.”

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