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Soaring UK footfall in August boosts hopes of a turning point for retail

Tom Bottomley
02 September 2021

Footfall across all UK retail destinations was -18.6% in August, up from -24.2% in July, compared to pre-pandemic August 2019, with the overall gap reducing to less than -20% for the first time since the start of the pandemic – increasing hope of a positive turning point for retail.

For the period 2-29 August 2021, footfall declined from 2019 by -23.5% in high streets, by -24% in shopping centres and by -2.4% in retail parks, according to the latest data from retail experts Springboard.

With overseas travel still largely complicated, the continued popularity of staycations and daycations in August bolstered footfall, particularly in high streets.

Footfall in Central London in August was -38% below the 2019 level, but it was strengthened considerably from -50.4% in July and is expected to continue to strengthen in September.

In large cities outside of the capital, the improvement in footfall in August was nearly double that in smaller high streets, putting them at a comparable level versus 2019 for the first time.

August’s footfall reflects the findings of the Springboard UK Retail Consumer Report for August, which identified that 89% of consumers feel some degree of comfort in visiting retail destinations and 50% are completely comfortable making trips.

Some 47% of UK consumers are now visiting bricks-and-mortar destinations at least once a week, and if nothing untoward occurs and restrictions are not put back in place, then it is expected that by the end of the year footfall will be just 10% to 15% below the pre-pandemic level.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, commented: “Footfall in August suggests the month was a turning point for bricks and mortar retail. Not only was there was a strong recovery in overall footfall from July of around a quarter (going from -24.2% in July to -18.6% in August), but the gap from the 2019 footfall level was less than -20% for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

“What is even more encouraging is that the indications were positive for all three destination types. In both high streets and shopping centres the gap from 2019 dropped below -25% for the first time, and in retail parks footfall was only marginally below the level two years ago.

“It seems that the popularity of staycations and daycations in August bolstered footfall activity, particularly in high streets. Although the lack of office workers and overseas tourists continued to impact Central London with footfall in August -38% below the 2019 level, it strengthened considerably from -50.4% in July and is expected to continue to do so in September.

“Despite restrictions being lifted for overseas travel, it is clear that Brits chose to stay home for the summer which gave a welcome boost to high streets, and particularly those that are attractive visitor destinations such as coastal and historic towns.

“This boost puts bricks and mortar retail in a good place at what is the start of Q4, leading up to the peak trading period of the year - Christmas. On the basis that nothing untoward occurs and restrictions are not put back in place, it appears to be a reasonable expectation that by the end of the year footfall will be just 10% to 15% below the pre-pandemic level.

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