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UPDATED Visitors to shops, and retail transactions, rise as non-essential stores open – but are still down on last year

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The number of shoppers visiting UK stores last week – when non-essential retailers opened for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdown was up by 45% compared to the previous week – but down by 54% compared to the same time last year, new figures suggest.

Meanwhile, data from Barclaycard Payments suggested that retail transactions had also risen since stores opened.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson today reduced the required social distancing to ’one metre plus’ – subject to social distancing measures such as wearing masks – which may help to boost in-store visits, and with them spending.

Commenting on that, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that the social distancing limit will be reduced to one metre from July 4. This brings the UK in line with the WHO safety guidance. Retailers have worked hard to effectively implement social distancing measures during the pandemic and the safety of staff and customers will continue to be their main priority. The reduction will support shops, which have faced limits to footfall – and therefore spending – as a result of the distancing measures.
“The reopening of restaurants, bars and other services will also help encourage people back to our high streets. This is vital to reviving our town centres and we hope the public plays their part in supporting our local high streets. Every purchase we make is a shop helped and a job supported.”

Footfall figures

Benefitting most clearly from the week-on-week rise in the Springboard figures were high streets (+47.5%) and shopping centres (+45%), as more retailers in those locations had not previously been open. Retail parks (WOW +27.1%), where food and home shops had been open showed a more subdued rise. Across the UK, footfall was up by more than 30% (WOW) each day except for Thursday (+25.1%) when there was heavy rain. On Monday alone, it was up by 41.7% while on Sunday it was up by 49.5% from a generally lower base.

Regulations are at different stages in the four nations of the UK, and while England’s footfall was up by 46.7% on the previous week, visitor numbers in Northern Ireland – where non-essential retail is also open – were up by 38.2%, while in Wales (+8.5%) and Scotland (11.5%) , where it is yet to open, figures were more subdued. 

But while the week-on-week comparison showed visitor numbers improving as retail emerges from lockdown, they were still sharply down on the same time last year. Across the UK, footfall was down by 54% on last year, with high streets (-60.5%) most sharply hit, followed by shopping centres (-54%) and retail parks (-25.1%). In the West End of London, visitor numbers were down by 80.8% compared to the same time last year – and up by 55.9% on the previous week.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard,  said: The opening of non-essential retail in England on Monday 15 June had a substantial impact on footfall across all retail destinations. The overall result for the UK was subdued by Scotland and Wales where retail reopening is yet to happen. We anticipate an additional uplift to come when retail in these areas of the UK also reopens and the hospitality and entertainment industry is given the green light to resume trading in the coming weeks.” 

Shopping centre operator Intu said it had seen footfall grow over the last weekend. 

Gavin Prior, operations director at Intu, whose sites include intu Lakeside and intu Trafford Centre, said: “Footfall increased towards the weekend and Saturday and Sunday were our busiest days so far. Visitor numbers were up by 321% on last weekend across all intu centres, with more than half of the stores in our centres now open. We have welcomed well over one million visitors in total and the safety measures we have introduced are working well.

“People are visiting us on shopping missions, determined to spend money in their favourite shops, and many stores have told us that basket sizes are up on last year with several ‘big ticket purchases’ such as high end jewellery.

“Fashion brands like Primark, Zara and H&M have all been really popular, with queues forming throughout the day and a regular flow of shoppers.

“Visitors tell us they are excited to be out shopping again and feel safe in our centres due to the measures we have in place. Research we undertook during lockdown showed that returning to the shops was high on peoples’ agenda, and we are now seeing that play out. As more brands re-open over the next few weeks, we expect visitor numbers to continue to grow.”

Retail transactions grow strongly as store reopen

Barclaycard data suggests that UK retail transactions grew last week as stores re-opened after lockdown. 

It says it saw both a 60% growth in the number of Barclaycard customers now trading and taking payments last week, and an 8% growth in the volume of transactions and a 6% growth in the value of transactions, compared to the week before shops opened. At the same time, the number of shops returning to trading was up by 12% on the previous week. 

Rob Cameron, chief executive of Barclaycard Payments, said: “It’s extremely heartening to witness the spike in activity that took place last week, and with some retailers still to open some or all of their stores, we expect sales volumes to continue to rise over the coming weeks.

“The ability of UK businesses to adapt and grow as they emerge from lockdown is a testament to how dedicated and resilient they are. It will be interesting to watch whether the measures they took to boost income during lockdown, such as turning to social media to increase sales, will become a permanent part of their business models from now on.”

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