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Shoppers return to buy as England and Wales emerge from lockdown 3.0: Hammerson/Springboard

Bristol's Cabot Circus is one of Land Securities' regional shopping centres. Image courtesy of Land Securities

Hammerson today says that customers are returning to its shopping centres in England as retail reopens from lockdown 3.0. Footfall at its top destinations is still at around 80% of on the same week in 2019 – but it is well up on the numbers that visited as the UK emerged from the first lockdown, back in June. That’s a result that’s also reflected in Springboard figures out this week. 

Non-essential retailers and restaurants, cafes and pubs with outdoor dining areas in both England and Wales were able to reopen from Covid-19 lockdowns on April 12. There are early signs that shoppers returned in force in the first week of opening, which also coincided with the last week of the Easter school holidays and also came at a time when half of the UK population has now had its first vaccine against Covid-19. 

Hammerson, which develops and operates shopping centres and retail parks, says that footfall at its flagship shopping centres – which include the Bullring in Birmingham, Cabot Circus in Bristol and the Bicester Village outlet centre – has run, on a seven-day average, at about four-fifths of the same week in April 2019. It’s also well up – by about 50 percentage points – on the level it saw when lockdown 1.0 came to an end last June. 

By contrast, in Scotland, where non-essential retail is not able to reopen until April 26, about 30% of its occupiers are currently trading. 

Shoppers may have returned over the last week, but Hammerson also says that market conditions have been challenging. Only 40% of the rent due in the second quarter of 2021 has yet been paid, with payments higher in the UK (48%) than in France (23%) and Ireland (34%). Of the rent due in the first half of the year as a whole, 46% has been received, while 78% of rent has been collected for the 2020 full-year. 

Hammerson said in today’s operational and rent collection update: “The company continues to work hard with brand partners to focus on improving collection rates on agreed rents. Looking forward to when all occupiers are able to operate, we expect collection rates for both the current year and FY20 to continue to improve as restrictions are eased across territories.”

Footfall recovers as UK retail starts to reopen

The update came soon after figures from Springboard showed a strong improvement in the number of people visiting UK shops over the last week. Across the UK – including Scotland and Northern Ireland, where shops are still closed – footfall was up by 87.8% last week, compared to the previous week. The strongest increases were enjoyed by shopping centres (+126.6%) and high streets (93.2%) while retail parks (+35.3%) saw a lift but from a higher level since essential stores have continued to trade at many throughout the latest lockdown. The strongest day was Monday (+151.8%), but more shoppers came out to buy every day. The weakest day was Tuesday (+69.7%) while Saturday (116.9%) was the second strongest. 

Footfall was still down on the same pre-pandemic week in 2019 (-25.4%) – but only just at retail parks (-2%), while the gap is wider on high streets (-34.9%) and shopping centres (-27.9%). And it was well ahead of the same week in 2020  (+330.1%), when shops were closed in the first lockdown. Some 404.1% more people visited shopping centres last week than a year earlier, while high streets (+335.1%) and retail parks (+241.1%) also benefited from the comparison. 

There’s also a distinct difference between footfall in the UK’s four nations (compared first to last year and then to 2019). Non-essential retailers can now open in England (+353.3%; -22.2%) and Wales (+339%; -29.4%) but are not yet able to do so in Scotland (+154.8%; -53.1%) or Northern Ireland (104.6%; -60%). The regional benefits are most strongly felt in central London (+600.6%; -59.3%) followed by regional cities excluding London (+488.8%; -40.3%) and historic towns (+469.2%; -33.1%). 

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, says: “The first week of reopening delivered an outstanding performance for UK retail destinations and stores, with an increase in footfall from the week before that was virtually double our forecast. These results provide concrete evidence of the desire of shoppers to return to bricks and mortar stores and destinations.”

But the big questions, she reminds us, is whether this can last. “The key issue for retail destinations will be whether this momentum can be sustained,” says Wehrle. “From our evidence of the last two lockdowns, we are expecting footfall to continue to increase over the next few weeks, albeit at a lesser rate. However, the reopening of indoor hospitality on 17th May will provide a further boost to retail destinations as many indoor venues are located in high streets and shopping centres.”

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