Apr 26, 2021
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West End footfall continues recovery as Scottish stores reopen

Apr 26, 2021

There was more good news for UK Retail on Monday as Scotland reopened its non-essential stores for the first time in months, the West End of London saw strong footfall and the rest of the country did too.

The shopping hub that makes up the West End of London continues to be busy - Photo: Pixabay/Public domain

First Scotland. Stores there have been shut since Christmas and Scottish footfall to retail destinations remained down by more than 50% last week, the latest report from Springboard showed. But stores reopened on Monday and if the experience in Scotland is anything like that of England and Wales from April 12, next week’s overall UK footfall figures should make even better reading than this latest report.

Monday's reopening came along with a raft of new stores from big names in key retail destinations, while shops and landlords pulled out all the stops to attract visitors.

Looking more widely around the country, footfall across all UK retail destinations last week was only 19.9% below the 2019 pre-pandemic level, and noticeably better than the previous best figure after stores reopened following the end of Lockdown 1. Given that the best that could be achieved back then was footfall being down 25% compared to a year earlier and that had come in August, several months after stores reopened, the latest figures were encouraging. 

Just two weeks after reopening and with stores in Scotland still closed, last week consumers seemed to feel that shops were safe places to visit and they had plenty of discretionary cash available to spend. 

That said, with the latest week starting on a Sunday and the previous week having included Sunday April 11 (when stores were still shut), the figures were flattered slightly.

And of course, the latest week did still show a decline week-on-week. Footfall was actually down 3.4%, although this was no surprise given the surge that had been seen in reopening week. If the current rate of store visits can be stabilised – and hopefully built upon – it all suggests brighter times for physical shops ahead.

Last week, retail park footfall was 2% above the 2019 level, which continues to reinforce the attractiveness of this destination type to shoppers. But high streets were 27.2% down compared to two years ago, while shopping centres were down 25.5%, which shows that these two destination types still have plenty of work to do to attract shoppers back. However, it will be interesting to see the impact that Scotland's reopening has when next week's figures come out as that will give a much more realistic picture of what's happening across the country as a whole. 

Looking at Central London, Springboard said footfall was down 56.7% compared to the same week of 2019 and down 4.8% compared to a week earlier. The first of those figures reflects the ongoing absence of many tourists and office workers in the key shopping district. And the second figure reflects the rush back to shops in the prior week that was always unlikely to be repeated in week two.

But it was a sign of strength nonetheless, especially as Central London had seen declines of 80%+ at the worst points of the lockdown.

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company which represents 600 businesses on Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and in Mayfair, was upbeat, although he also urged the authorities to offer more help to retailers. He said: “With the continuation of the warm weather heading into the weekend, we were delighted to see Londoners making the most of the sunshine and heading back to the West End to refresh their spring wardrobes and enjoy time with friends and family in outdoor spaces.

“We’re encouraged by the sustained levels of footfall that we’ve seen in the district, already tracking well ahead of the first reopening in June 2020. However, it is imperative that businesses continue to be supported in the right ways to help them recover.  

“We desperately need an extension of Sunday trading hours in Britain’s two international centres — London’s West End and Knightsbridge. These returning shoppers are looking for flexibility — we’re seeing high levels of footfall in the district in the evenings, highlighting the public’s desire to shop, dine and enjoy the West End at their convenience.”

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