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Shoppers start to return to high streets amid signs of pent-up demand for store visits

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The number of people visiting the UK’s shops started, slowly, to rise in the sunniest May since 1957. Visitor numbers were down by 73.3% during the month, compared to last May, an improvement from a drop of 80.1% last year, according to Springboard.

The Springboard Footfall Monitor for May 2020 suggested that visitor numbers to retail parks had fared best, with a decline of 68.1% on a year earlier, as they benefitted from the opening of food and home stores during the month. High streets (-78.2%) and shopping centres (-80.5%) fared still worse.

Footfall improved in retail parks in May compared to the previous month of April, falling by 55.1% against a fall of 68.1% in April.  Visitor numbers improved over the two sunny bank holiday weekends, rising by an average of 12% in the week leading up to each of them compared to the previous week, compared to a rise of 5.5% in the previous week. 

Springboard sees “huge” evidence of pent-up demand to shop in stores, with queues at home stores in the weekend before June 1. Footfall fell by 42.9%, year-on-year, in the early days of June, compared to a YOY fall of 56.2% in the early days of May. 

Visitor numbers in smaller high cities were most resilient, according to Springboard: footfall in small high streets was down by 41.4% YOY, while that in regional cities was down by 88.8% in May.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said: “The opening of home stores and garden centres led to a significant rebound in footfall in retail parks, from a drop of -68.1% in April to -55.1% in May. In each week of the month, footfall strengthened slightly, moving from an annual decline of -59.1% in the first week to -50.8% by the last week of the month. 

“The subject on everyone’s lips is what will the likely success be of the reopening of non-essential retail on June 15. The limited evidence so far has suggested that despite the growth in online shopping over the past two months, there is a huge amount of pent up demand amongst consumers for bricks and mortar shopping. 

“The first indication of this were the monumental queues that built up at major home stores in the weekend before the official easing of lockdown restrictions in England on June 1; footfall strengthened noticeably in retail parks over the first few days of the week following this, with the decline averaging -42.9% versus -56.2% over the same days at the beginning of May.”

She added: “The key trend to be watched over the period of retail reopening in June, and over subsequent months, will be whether this signals the beginning of a new era for local high streets. Certainly, what is likely is that those destinations and retailers that are best able to manage customer numbers to ensure social distancing will be the most in demand by consumers as safety during shopping is paramount.” 

Image: Shutterstock

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