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UK footfall rises as workers return to the office

Tom Bottomley
27 September 2021

Footfall across all UK retail destinations rose by +2.7% last week, 19-25 September, compared to the week before, with workers returning to offices cited as the main reason by retail experts Springboard.

It was the first rise in the past four weeks, with the greatest rise occurring in high streets which saw an increase of +3.7% and shopping centres that saw an increase of +2.3%, while footfall increased by 0.9% in retail parks.

In central London and large city centres outside of London, footfall rose by +6.5% and +6.1% respectively and by +8.8% in the areas of central London dominated by offices rather than stores.

In contrast, in both outer London and in market towns across the UK, which have benefited from home working, footfall rose by just +1.5%.

Further supporting evidence that a return to offices has started is that over the Monday to Friday working week, footfall rose in high streets by +6.7% but dropped by -1.5% on Saturday, while in shopping centres the rise in footfall averaged +3% between Monday to Friday but rose by just +0.4% on Saturday.

The overall uplift in activity in high streets of +3.7% was a significant improvement from the same week in pre-pandemic 2019 when footfall declined by -6.3%. That degree of improvement, alongside increases in footfall in shopping centres and retail parks, led to the gap in footfall from 2019 in UK retail destinations narrowing to -15.2% from -19.9% in the week before. In high streets the gap narrowed substantially more to -15.8% from -24.4% in the previous week, while in shopping centres footfall remains -23.6% below the 2019 level.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, said: “Footfall in UK retail destinations last week rose last week from the week before, which is the first rise in the past four weeks and a particularly positive result as footfall declined in the same week in both 2019 and 2020. Footfall rose in all three destination types, but by far the greatest uplift  occurred in high streets, where the increase was a third higher than in shopping centres and four times as great as that in retail parks.

“High street footfall was undoubtedly supported by a shift back to the office, demonstrated by a greater uplift from the week before in central London and large city centres outside of the capital, than in smaller high streets and in outer London. In areas of central London with a large proportion of office rather than retail space, footfall rose by more than in central London as a whole.

“The greater rise in footfall in high streets meant that the gap from the 2019 level narrowed significantly, and is now a third less than in shopping centres.”

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