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Store visits plummet at record rate as Covid-19 lockdown bites

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Store closures as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown have seen the number of visits to UK stores fall by a record 44.7% in March, new figures suggest.

Non-essential retail shops were ordered to close in the week of March 23. In the preceding three weeks UK footfall was down by an average of 17.7%, according to the latest BRC-Shoppertrak Footfall Monitor, which covers the five weeks to April 4. But in the final two weeks of the month, store visits were down by an average of 83.2%. 

Retail parks, which are more likely to include supermarkets, have fared better than the average, with footfall down by 23.5% in March. High streets, which often have convenience stores, saw their footfall decline by 41.8%. Shopping centres have been hardest hit, with year-on-year visitor numbers down by 43.6% in March. 

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Footfall dropped in early March as many people chose to stay at home and reduce the risk of catching coronavirus. This downwards trajectory was accelerated by the Government’s decision to put the UK on lockdown, with footfall dropping by more than 80% on the previous year in the weeks following these measures.

“High streets and shopping centres saw the biggest declines as most shops closed their doors, but retail parks also saw reduced falls due to the presence of many essential retailers remaining open for business.

“Retail is facing an unprecedented challenge, particularly those geared towards high street sales. Government schemes, including loans, furlough payments and business rates respite, have been welcomed by the industry as an essential lifeline. However, many jobs and businesses depend on this backing and Government must remain flexible in their support over the coming weeks, with footfall expected to fall even further.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at ShopperTrak, said: “The three weeks in March leading up to lockdown saw progressive declines in traffic from -4.4% to -38.3% year on year. Following the government’s announcement, we then saw year-on-year decreases of over 80% in the final two weeks. The way in which we shop has dramatically changed, with consumers shopping by themselves – causing an artificial drop in footfall numbers – and retailers limiting shopper numbers in store.  

“In these unprecedented times, I applaud those retailers and store teams who are continuing to serve us. Never before have retailers needed to act so fast, making huge changes in order to keep the public safe. Existing technologies and solutions – such as real-time occupancy – are also being explored by many retailers, to help automate processes and improve social distancing measures.  

“All eyes are on our team in China who are monitoring the safe return of retail as they come out of lockdown, as they report that in Shanghai after 4 weeks of opening up again, stores are 80% trading with visitor numbers back to 70% of normal.”

Image: Adobe Stock

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