UK high street footfall ticks up as confidence begins to return

·2-min read
Shoppers on the high street in Belfast. The studio is offering 50% extra on top of the Northern Ireland High Street voucher scheme, when using it to purchase a Skinworks voucher. Picture date: Monday September 27, 2021.
Numbers of shoppers on UK high streets crept up in Septemeber, bucking usual trends. Photo: PA

Footfall on UK high streets saw a small recovery in September, further narrowing the footfall gap between traffic pre-COVID-19 lockdowns and now as autumn closed in. 

Springboard's high street monitor showed volumes narrowed from 2019 to -17.4% from -18.6% in August.

"Although this is the most marginal improvement of any month in 2021, this result is more positive than it first appears," said Springboard. 

"This month’s results go against the long-term footfall trend for September, which traditionally is a month in which footfall levels off or declines from the year before as schools go back and spending for the festive period is yet to start."

The improvement emanated from high streets and shopping centres, and it was only in retail parks where customer activity worsened. 

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The month benefitted from the inclusion of August bank holiday, which occurred in the same week as the beginning of September, and which will have boosted high street footfall in particular with the popularity of daycations and staycations over the summer months. 

This is further evidenced by the gap from 2019 narrowing to -20.3% in September from -23.5% in August. Over the two weeks that spanned the bank holiday weekend, high street footfall improved to -19.1% below 2019, versus -26.3% in the week before.

Whilst much of the decline in footfall from 2019 is accounted for by the loss of office workers and tourists in retail destinations due to the ongoing pandemic, Springboard said we must also recognise the accelerating impact of online on bricks and mortar retail that has been a feature of the past decade. 

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The reduction of in-store browsing, together with a transition of some spending online has meant that over the past decade, footfall had already been declining by around -1.5% per annum. Therefore, regardless of the Covid-19 pandemic, retail footfall would likely have declined by -3% from 2019, and by circa -4% in high streets, implying that the true impact of Covid on footfall is around -14% to -16%.

Springboard anticipates a continued and steady increase in the return of employees to office working for at least part of the week together with the beginnings of the return of overseas tourists. The combination of which will add further support to footfall in retail stores and destinations as we near the Christmas trading period.

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