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UK footfall edges up in October signalling early start to Christmas shopping

Tom Bottomley
04 November 2021

UK footfall across all UK destinations saw a noticeable improvement from 3-30 October, 2021, at -13.4% lower than the same period in pre-pandemic 2019, compared with -17.4% in September, pointing to Christmas shopping starting early.

The final week of the month, which included the October school half term, was pivotal in boosting footfall, shifting the average from -14.3% over the first three weeks to-10.9% in the last week of the month, according to retail experts Springboard.

In the final week of the month, it was high streets and shopping centres that benefitted most. Footfall in high streets strengthened from an average of -15.8% over the first three weeks to -12.1% in the last week, and in shopping centres footfall shifted from -21.5% over the first three weeks to -15.9%.

In contrast, in retail parks footfall in overall terms has bounced back far more to pre-COVID level, but during half term week the gain was more modest, from an average over the first three weeks of -3.2% to -2.7% in the last week of the month.

UK city centre footfall also improved in October, and in the continued absence of overseas tourists that suggests the drift back to the office is accelerating. In Central London footfall moved to -22.2% compared with 2019, that coming from -32.2% in September. In regional cities outside of the capital footfall reached -15.7%, compared with -19.3% in September.

The shop vacancy rate remains high at 11.7%, despite more pop-up shops typically opening in the run-up to Christmas and with more attractive deals on rents on offer to bring high streets back to life.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, said: “While footfall is recovering, the vacancy rate remains high at 11.7% which is only a very marginal improvement from July when it was 11.8%. This is despite the growth of pop-up stores that are a typical feature of retail destinations in the run up to Christmas, but which should be even more prevalent now given the greater availability of empty space.

“However, this is not a surprising outcome as the vacancy rate is both a lagged and sticky indicator. The complexities of the leasing market and the heavy burden of business rates hinders the reoccupation of empty units while also often forcing unviable retailers to continue to trade, highlighting its limitations as the sole indicator for determining bricks and mortar retail performance.”

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