Dec 20, 2021
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Weekend dash to shops weaker than hoped as Omicron keeps shoppers at home

Dec 20, 2021

The fear of catching the fast-spreading Omicron Covid-19 variant before Christmas looks to have rocked shopper confidence over the final weekend, usually the busiest in-store shopping period of the entire festive season, latest footfall figures from Springboard and Sensormatic show.

A busy London Regent Street on late Saturday afternoon - Image: Nigel Taylor

Visits to retailers around the UK rose just 0.8% week-on-week on Saturday and slipped 1.4% on Sunday, reversing the usual trend for footfall to soar during the final weekend before Christmas, Springboard said.

Its data also reveals that footfall over the weekend declined by 8.5% in Central London. However, anecdotal evidence showed London’s West End (Oxford Street and Regent Street) was particularly busy on late Saturday afternoon. 

Weekend numbers also slipped 6.4% in cities outside of the capital. But they were up 3.4% in market towns, showing regional shoppers mostly preferred to stay local.

High street footfall across the UK declined 2.6% week-on-week over the pre-Christmas weekend. Shoppers particularly chose to avoid high streets on the Sunday as visitor numbers fell 5.9% week-on-week.

For shopping centres, the weekend numbers were very tame, falling 0.5% week-on-week. But weekend footfall did rise 4.8% week-on-week at retail parks, deemed safer to visit (they’re open air centres, with large stores and easy parking).

To show just how far behind Sunday figures were compared to two years ago (22 December 2019), the numbers were down 25.2% across all UK retail destinations. Shopping centres were down 32.9%, with high streets 26.2% lower and retail parks 14.9% behind.

However, visitor numbers across all UK destinations on Sunday were 33.2% higher than one year ago (20 December 2020), when the UK entered its third coronavirus lockdown.

Springboard’s figures were backed up by data from Sensormatic Solutions, which showed UK footfall on Saturday was down 26% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

It said Saturday footfall was down 0.3% compared with the previous Saturday (11 December) and only marginally up (1%) compared to 4 December.

Springboard's Diane Wehrle, said consumers over the weekend were “clearly cautious about venturing out and are self-censoring. All of this drop has been driven by fewer trips being made to high streets and shopping centres, with high streets particularly hard hit.”

Andy Sumpter, EMEA Retail Consultant for Sensormatic, also said: “Consumer caution in the face of the Omicron wave and question marks about Christmas once again being cancelled means we’ve seen subdued shopper counts on the High Street on Super Saturday.

“And while the data doesn’t show a mass exodus from the high street, it does mean that festive footfall is facing a downward trajectory, just at the time when many retailers are relying on Christmas trade to make ends meet.  This will not only make uncomfortable reading, but will come as an even greater blow to retail businesses who have once again stepped up to make their store environments as safe as possible for shoppers.”  

Consumer analyst Kate Hardcastle also told the BBC that retailers were experiencing another "crushing blow" this Christmas because consumers were not really "buying emotionally", in the way they usually did for loved ones in years prior to the pandemic.

"Shoppers are staying warm and dry, already isolating ready for the holiday at home and grabbing any extras online.”

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