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Last minute Christmas boost for UK retail dampened by Omicron fears

Tom Bottomley
06 January 2022

Hopes for a final Christmas boost to footfall for UK retail destinations were dampened by the rise of the Omicron Covid variant, and consumer nervousness about missing out on Christmas celebrations.

The rapid spike in infections and households having to isolate in December, as well as the reintroduction of the working from home guidance outlined in the Government’s Plan B to help stem the spread, killed the momentum seen at the beginning of the month.

Footfall over across all UK retail destinations in December (covering the five weeks from 28 November 2021 to 2 January 2022) was -18.6% below the 2019 level, the worst result since August and a significant drop off from November when it stood at -14.5% below 2019, according to the latest figures from retail intelligence experts Springboard.

Footfall in December declined from 2019 by -22.2% in high streets, -24.1% in shopping centres and -4.9% in retail parks.

In the week beginning 19 December, 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.

However, the 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.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, said: “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.”

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