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Online shopping expected to remain at ‘Christmas +’ levels as high street visitor numbers stay low despite lockdown easing

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‘Christmas +’ levels of online delivery are predicted to become the norm as the number of people visiting shops stays low.

Footfall data suggests that visitor numbers to high streets rose over the weekend as restaurants and pubs re-opened from the Covid-19 lockdown, compared to the same time last week – but remained sharply down on the same time last year. But delivery specialists suggested shopping had moved online, at least for the moment.

The Springboard figures show visitor numbers to English high streets were up on both Saturday (+19.6%) and Sunday (+28.3%) compared to the previous weekend. But compared to the previous year, footfall was down on both days, falling by 57.7% on Saturday and by 53.4% on Sunday. Shopping centres showed less of a benefit from the reopening of hospitality, growing by 6% week-on-week (WOW) on Saturday and by 10.7% on Sunday. In retail parks, where hospitality is less of a draw, footfall was down on both days (-7.6% Saturday and -3,6% Sunday).

The year-on-year figures showed stark falls against all types of location. When the full 24 hours of Saturday July 4 2020 was compared to Saturday July 6 2019, footfall was down across English high streets (-56%), retail parks (-30.4%), shopping centres (-48.3%) and overall by 48%. Overall footfall fell in all four countries of the UK in that comparison, falling by 60.9% in Wales, by 50.5% in Scotland and by 39.6% in Northern Ireland.

“Despite what are positive signs for the hospitality industry on the first weekend of reopening, it is essential to recognise that footfall remains at around half of the 2019 level,” said Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard. “As the industry takes small steps in reopening post-pandemic, we recognise there is still a long way to go before the industry returns to normality.”

David Jinks, head of consumer research at ParcelHero, said: “Contrary to many analysts’ expectations, parcel deliveries and ecommerce sales have continued to climb in July despite most non-essential stores reopening on 15 June. ParcelHero has seen no sign of any decline in deliveries so far this month and is still experiencing Christmas + level volumes. Many online retailers and couriers are experiencing the same high level of demand.”

He said the “much-anticipated return” to high street shopping and proved a “damp squib”. He said: “The rapid recovery in retail sales in the first few days after non-essential stores were allowed to reopen fell off markedly during the following week, according to new data from business advisors BDO UK. Sales in the first few days after reopening on June 15 were only -7.1 percent down on the same week last year but collapsed to  -15.5%  the week after.

“In contrast, online sales are booming. Growth Intelligence says over 85,000 businesses launched online during lockdown and its loosening has done little to halt demand. In fact, there is strong evidence that the reopening of many High Street stores, ironically, actually boosted online sales. According to the online retailers’ association IMRG/Capgemini, multichannel retailers “recorded the highest online growth ever” during the week when physical retailers reopened their doors. What all this means is that, even after town centre stores reopened, there was no sign of a fall-off in ecommerce.”

Gary McKelvey, commercial director at Northampton-based Panther Warehousing, said: “Online sales numbers are going to stay higher than before coronavirus and flexible deliveries are going to be key as people return to work. If people have only just gone back to the office, they are not going to want to take time off for deliveries.”

This could remain the case for some time to come: a new study from outdoor shopping centre The Valley, in Evesham, Worcestershire, suggests that up to half of all UK shoppers may avoid stepping inside a shopping centre for as long as three months, according to its poll of 2,000 UK adults. 

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