Omicron concerns hit UK weekly footfall numbers but London's West End enjoys weekend bounce
The increasing threat of the new Omicron Covid variant hit UK retail footfall in the latest trading week (5-11 December). Although the government’s Plan B restrictions had not yet come fully into force, footfall across UK retail destinations declined 1.1% week-on-week, wholly driven by a 2.7% drop in activity on high streets, according to Springboard.
Meanwhile a hefty 3% week-on-week dip in visits to Central London overall at least didn’t mirror New West End Company figures for the weekend. According to the business body representing Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street traders, footfall actually rose by the same percentage. But it still conceded that footfall numbers were still down nearly a third from pre-pandemic figures.
Springboard also said retail visits fell 1.6% in other regional cities although market towns were a rare positive performance, up a modest 1.5% week-on-week, as shoppers probably stayed local.
The overall weekly decline wasn’t helped by severe weather conditions on Tuesday when footfall fell by 11.1% and plummeted 15.2% in high streets, versus a 7.7% dip in shopping centres (which offer protection from the worst of the elements), and a 5.8% slide in retail parks.
Footfall did increase from the week before on each of the previous three days, peaking on Friday at +3.9% overall and +6.8% in shopping centres.
But an anticipated uplift on Saturday didn’t occur, with a drop in footfall of 1.2% overall with only very marginal increase of 0.1% in shopping centres doing little to help.
And the gap in footfall from the 2019 level still stood at -17.7% last week, but footfall was at least 18.1% above 2020 following the end of Lockdown 2.
Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard said: “The hoped-for pre-Christmas boost in trading did not materialise last week. Footfall on Saturday — the peak trading day — was subdued with a marginal drop from the week before.
“The poor result on Saturday may well be the first signs of the impact of the Plan B restrictions [and] is likely to have increased nervousness amongst consumers around visiting busy destinations during peak shopping periods."
She added: "Whilst Plan B restrictions… don’t come into force until today [Monday] it appears to have already had an impact last week, with a decline in Springboard's 'Central London Back to the Office' benchmark that was nearly double the drop in footfall in Central London as a whole.”
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, also commented: "Following the hammer blow of the Prime Minister's announcement of the reinstatement of work from home guidance, retailers will have been cheered by a solid weekend that saw footfall rise 3% week-on-week. Retailers will be hoping this can offset some of the impact from the loss of office workers in the vital last full week before Christmas.
He added: “Whilst the safety of the public remains our top priority, we are extremely concerned about the long-term survival of many of the retail and hospitality businesses in our district.
“After nearly two years of interrupted trading, and associated rising costs, many West End businesses have used up their cash reserves and need immediate cash flow support. We must see a clear path out of Plan B and back to recovery.”
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