UK December footfall disappoints on Omicron concerns, gap with 2019 widens
Hopes for a last-minute Christmas boost for physical retail were dashed on three fronts in December. They were the rise of Omicron, more people working from home, and consumer worries that the rapid rise in infections could lead to them missing out on Christmas celebrations, according to Springboard.
Its latest report covering the five-week festive shopping period (28 November-2 January) showed footfall worsened noticeably during December, to 18.6% below 2019 compared with -14.5% in November. High streets and shopping centres suffered the most.
The gap in high street footfall from the 2019 level widened to -22.2% in December from -15.8% in November. And the gap in shopping centres from the 2019 footfall level remained greater than in high streets (at -24.1%), but the deterioration from November (-22% below 2019) was slightly more modest.
And retail parks? Unsurprisingly, footfall here actually improved, up 5.1% on 2019, boosted by shoppers visiting food stores to stock up on Christmas groceries and consumers generally feeling more secure visiting easy-access, open-air locations.
The bright spot of the month was in the fourth week (seven days beginning 19 December) when the gap from 2019 narrowed to -13.8% across all UK retail destinations from -19.1% in the week before, “as consumers made the most of the six available trading days in the week running up to Christmas Day on Saturday”, noted Springboard.
However, the overall result is partially distorted by the date offset of Christmas in 2019, when Christmas Day fell on Wednesday of the fourth week of the month leaving only three full trading days versus five trading days in 2021.
“The biggest challenge for the retail sector in the weeks to come will be the ongoing working from home guidance that suppresses footfall, combined with increasing staff shortages due to isolation and the great return of goods purchased over the Christmas period,” said Diane Wehrle, Marketing & Insights Director.
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