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UK footfall dips as Plan B restrictions start to impact high streets

Tom Bottomley
13 December 2021

Overall UK footfall declined by -1.1% last week, 5-11 December, compared to the week before, wholly driven by a -2.7% drop in activity in high streets, as the Government’s Plan B restrictions started on Friday 10 December, with mask wearing compulsory in shops once again.

Footfall dropped -3% in Central London week-on-week, and according to Central London’s "Back to the Office Benchmark" – data compiled by retail experts Springboard which comprises only those areas in close proximity to offices, footfall plummeted by -5.3%, despite the work from home guidance not coming into effect until today, 13 December.

There was a drop in footfall of -1.6% in other large regional cities last week, versus a rise of +1.5% in market towns, suggesting people were shopping closer to home.

The severe weather on Tuesday 7 December had a damning effect on overall UK footfall for the week, as it declined by -11.1% overall, and by -15.2% in high streets, versus -7.7% in shopping centres and -5.8% in retail parks which offer protection from the worst of the elements.

However, the anticipated uplift on Saturday 11 December did not occur, with a drop in footfall of -1.2% and only a very marginal increase of +0.1% in shopping centres.

At the end of last week footfall stood at -17.7% below the 2019 level and +18.1% above 2020 following the end of Lockdown 2.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, commented: “The hoped for pre-Christmas boost in trading did not materialise last week, with footfall in UK retail destinations declining from the week before, all of which was driven by a reduction in activity in high streets.  Footfall did rise in retail parks and shopping centres, but only by a marginal amount which wasn't enough to deliver an uplift overall.

“The week as a whole was impacted by a particularly poor result on Tuesday when there was double digit decline from the week before, undoubtedly due to severe weather, however footfall on Saturday - the peak trading day - was subdued with a marginal drop from the week before while there had been rises on each of the previous three days.

“The poor result on Saturday may well be the first signs of the impact of the Plan B restrictions which, although limited to compulsory mask wearing in stores up to the end of last week, is likely to have increased nervousness amongst consumers around visiting busy destinations during peak shopping periods. Indeed, there were already early signs showing last week, with declines in footfall from the week before in Central London and large cities outside of the capital, while footfall in market towns - which are smaller more local high streets - rose from the week before.

“Whilst Plan B restrictions, such as advice to work from home if possible, don't come into force until today, it appears to have already had an impact last week, with a decline in Springboard's Central London ‘Back to the Office Benchmark’ that was nearly double the drop in footfall in Central London as a whole.”

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