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Visitors to shops in England up by more than 50% this morning compared to last week – but still down by a third on last year

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Shoppers appear to have voted with their feet in favour of buying on the high street, as non-essential shops reopened from their Covid-19 lockdown. Visitor numbers to English stores were up by 52% this morning, compared to the same time last week. However, when compared to the same time last year footfall was down by just over a third, according to the figures from Springboard. 

Queues were widely reported this morning on social media outside department stores, branches of Primark, Nike, Zara and more as they opened their doors today for the first time since the lockdown started on March 23. 

New social distancing rules imposed since the last time those retailers opened their doors limits both the number of people who can be inside a shop at any given time, and requires that shoppers queuing outside keep a 2m distance between them.While shopper numbers were up compared to the same time last week, they were still down by a third (34.2%) compared to the same time last year. 

Nonetheless, the overall numbers represent a sharp short-term improvement, according to the latest footfall data from Springboard. It showed footfall on high streets up by 51.7% this morning, compared to the same time last week. Across high streets, shopping centres and retail parks, footfall was up by 41.7% compared to last week.

There also appear to be clear differences between locations depending on whether they are home to essential or non-essential shops. Footfall has risen higher on high streets than shopping centres (+37%), for example, perhaps as a result of generally warm and sunny weather this morning. 

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “Footfall in retail parks that are dominated by high street retailers has risen by +41.7% in England, but by only +25.1% on England’s retail parks as a whole; demonstrating that shoppers have switched from homeware stores and food stores to locations with high street retailers such as M&S and Next.

“Some of the uplift in footfall is a consequence of a drop in footfall last Monday from the Monday before, but nevertheless the rise is significant; and we must remember that these results are only for the period up to 12pm. Footfall is likely to increase further by early afternoon as people come out later in the day and during their lunch hours.” 

Springboard has worked with specialist destination agency AL Marketing to find out about shoppers’ attitudes to the reopening of non-essential retail. The agency questioned 800 shoppers living in towns and also drew on a wider survey of 1,436 people across England, via the Maybe survey platform. It found that while 14% are excited about shopping again, almost a third (32%) feel nervous. Their greatest concerns were around other people not following safety measures in shops (36%) and the prospect of long queues to get in (32%). Looking ahead, hospitality businesses are set to benefit as the lockdown loosens, since shoppers have most missed restaurants and cafes (32%), fashion (21%) and entertainment (16%). 

In the short-term, there may be an element of novelty for shoppers in England – since in Northern Ireland, where non-essential shops opened on Friday, footfall today was a more modest 29.1% up on the same time last week, with shopping centres (+22.2%) and high streets (+31.4%) both benefiting but retail parks seeing their numbers fall slightly (-0.2%) on last week. Compared to the same time last year, footfall in Northern Ireland was down by 44.9% and fell still more sharply in Scotland (-67.5%) and Wales (-54.4%). Compared to last week, footfall was down by 4.3% in Scotland and and up by 8.3% in Wales. 

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