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Government’s COVID Plan B to heavily impact footfall in England

Tom Bottomley
09 December 2021

Following last night’s government announcement that COVID Plan B is coming in to place from Friday – with work from home guidance from Monday – footfall in Central London and cities outside of the capital is expected to be dramatically impacted.

Footfall in Central London and city centres outside of the capital is currently -20% below the pre-pandemic 2019 level. However, retail experts Springboard predict a widening of that gap, with footfall dropping to -50% below the 2019 level in Central London and -30% below 2019 in cities outside of the capital.

In outer London footfall will shift from its current level of -10% below 2019 to -15%, in market towns footfall will shift to -19% below 2019 from its current level of -16% and in shopping centres to -28% from its current level of -22%.

Retail parks, where footfall is currently just -4% below the 2019 level, could be the only physical shopping winner, strengthening to -2% below the 2019 level, due to a drop-in shopper activity in city centres.

Springboard also predicts to see a sudden rise in online non-food spending again, to circa +29%. In December last year, when restrictions were also in place, though more severe than those included in Plan B, online spending on non-food stood at +30%.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, commented: “From our knowledge of previous periods of COVID restrictions we know that enforced home working and increased nervousness around COVID means a proportion of this footfall will be diverted elsewhere, predominantly to smaller high streets that are more local to shoppers’ homes and are less congested, and to retail parks, many of which have a wide range of high street retail stores that are large and spacious, combined with open air parking that is free of charge.

“The majority also include large food stores that are so key in the run up to Christmas. Some shoppers are also likely to transfer their city based trips to large shopping centres which deliver a Christmas experience but where the stores are large and the malls are wide, enabling them to socially distance more easily.

“This clearly represents yet another hammer blow to an industry that is still trying to recover from a huge loss of trade in 2020. While many retailers benefited from a huge uplift in their online sales last year, for the vast majority this was simply not enough to make up for the loss of store sales. After all, in normal trading conditions pre-COVID in 2019, 80% of retail sales were store based. Perhaps the saving grace for many will have been the awareness and concern of many shoppers around the lack of supply of products, which will have encouraged them to purchase their Christmas gifts earlier this year.”

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