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Shoppers start to return in-store, but footfall still below pre-pandemic levels as office staff remain at home

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Two weeks into store re-openings, are shoppers still keen to buy in-store? The latest footfall figures suggest that more people continue to visit shops than did when stores reopened from the first lockdown, back in June. But store visits have not yet recovered to their pre-pandemic level, according to figures from both business intelligence specialist Springboard and the London retailer association the New West End Company. That’s likely to be because of the continued shift to home working. 

Fewer people visited retail destinations across the UK last week than did in the previous week. Footfall was down by 3.4% over the full week, possibly thanks to a huge uplift on Sunday since stores were not open on the previous Sunday. 

Over Monday to Friday alone, footfall was down by 10.7% – likely because more people worked from home than from their offices. And on Saturday alone, footfall was 0.9% higher than in the previous week. That, says Springboard, is the first evidence of a home working effect on retail footfall. It’s also worth noting that the first week of reopening was the last week of the Easter school holidays. The effect is noticeable across different destinations, with Monday to Friday footfall lower in shopping centres (-17.8% on the previous week) than in high streets (-8.6%).

Footfall remains down on pre-pandemic levels: 19.9% fewer people visited UK retail destinations last week than in the same week in 2019. Again, the fall is most noticeable Monday to Friday (-24.3%), returning to -19.9% at the weekend. But all the figures represent an improvement on the  level at the end of August 2020 (-25% on 2019). In retail parks, last week’s footfall was 2% higher than in 2019. 

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, says: “The positive news for bricks and mortar retail continues, as the gap in footfall last week from the same week in 2019 continued to narrow, with the week ending at a higher level than at the previous peak at the end of August 2020.
However, momentum in the recovery of retail slowed slightly last week, with footfall across UK retail destinations dipping slightly from the previous week when non-essential stores reopened. The tremendous opening week for retail was undoubtedly helped by the fact that it was the last week of the school Easter break for many children, which meant some parents took leave from work to visit stores and retail destinations as a family. 

“It is therefore not surprising that footfall dipped last week from the week before, as children went back at school and many people continue to work from home making stores less accessible over the working week; evidenced by the fact that the drop in footfall occurred between Monday and Friday, while on Saturday it continued to rise.” 

The New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses in London’s West End – from Oxford Street to Mayfair – says that footfall has been running well ahead of the football seen on reopening in June 2020. It says that last Saturday footfall was at 57% of the usual number of visitors for April – representing a recovery from previous levels. 

New West End Company chief executive Jace Tyrrell says: “With the continuation of the warm weather heading into the weekend, we were delighted to see Londoners making the most of the sunshine and heading back to the West End to refresh their spring wardrobes and enjoy time with friends and family in outdoor spaces.

“We’re encouraged by the sustained levels of footfall that we’ve seen in the district, already tracking well ahead of the first reopening in June 2020. However, it is imperative that businesses continue to be supported in the right ways to help them recover.

“We desperately need an extension of Sunday trading hours in Britain’s two international centres –  London’s West End and Knightsbridge. These returning shoppers are looking for flexibility – we’re seeing high levels of footfall in the district in the evenings, highlighting the public’s desire to shop, dine and enjoy the West End at their convenience.”

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