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Store visitor numbers down as children return to school – but adults don’t appear to be back in the office

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The number of visitors going to UK shops last week fell as most children returned to school for the first time since Covid-19 lockdown – and as adults do not appear to have returned to the office, new data suggests.

Figures from Springboard show footfall fell by 6.3% across all UK retail locations last week, compared to the previous week. Compared to last year, footfall was down by 27.5% last week, while the previous week it had been down by 25%. 

High streets are still in decline compared to both last week (-5.4%) and last year (-33.7%). Visitors to shopping centres were also down both on the previous week (-9%) and sharply on the previous year (-31.2%). By contrast, while fewer people went to retail parks compared to the previous week (-5.2%), there the fall in footfall is just 10.4% behind the same time last year. 

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “The back-to-school boost to footfall ended sharply last week. Whilst this is a pattern of consumer activity that Springboard has come to expect – we have seen this drop occur in all but one year since we started publishing our footfall indices in 2009 – the magnitude of the drop has been larger than in any previous year. This signifies the continued impact of many Brits continuing to work from home as offices across the UK remain closed.”

A geographic drop in footfall also suggested that shoppers were back at home and no longer on staycation. Footfall was down, on a week-on-week comparison, more sharply in coastal towns (-9.8%) and historic towns (-7.7%) than in high streets more generally. At the same time, however, footfall was down in regional cities (-7.9%) and in Greater London (-9.2%) – which both have a high concentration of offices. That said, footfall in central London fell by only 3% compared to the previous week. 

There has been a suggestion that the growth in online orders would fade as more people returned to the office. However, today’s footfall figures suggest that office workers will be continuing to buy online for the moment at least. 

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