Jan 25, 2021
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2020 worst year yet for footfall, but consumers still want physical contact says Springboard

Jan 25, 2021

This won't come as a surprise to many people but 2020 was the year that annual footfall dropped to its lowest level ever recorded. It was down 39.1% in the UK as the pandemic changed the retail industry forever.

Photo: Springboard

That information came from specialist tracking company Springboard that said it saw six distinct time periods last year, all of which were defined by the crisis. They were pre Covid, Lockdown 1, Retail & Hospitality reopening, Lockdown 2, Tiered Reopening, and Tier 4/Lockdown 3.

The company said 2020 “significantly altered the retail industry, as doors of non-essential retailers were forced to close for a total of 18 weeks”.

It said retail footfall plummeted 75.1% in the week after the UK went into lockdown on 23 March, a level never previously recorded by Springboard, as people adapted to a new way of living, working and shopping. 

Pre-Covid footfall had dropped 2.6%, but from then on the decline “was of an unprecedented magnitude, ranging between -35% and -71.4%”. 

The biggest drop was seen in week 16 (the week starting April 16), during Lockdown 1, with the largest uplift seen in week 25 (from June 14), when non-essential retail stores reopened in England. 

Retail parks were the clear winners last year with an overall drop in footfall of only 23% in comparison to shopping centres that were down 41.9% and high streets down 45.2%. 

Retail parks benefited from having lots of ‘essential’ retailers as tenants, but also being easy to access without having to rely on public transport and being outdoors, which made social distancing easier.

They also most likely benefited from the rise of localism and that was a clear trend throughout the year on high streets too. Springboard said high streets got a new lease of life and of those across the UK, it was the market towns, coastal towns and historic towns that were far more resilient in terms of retaining shoppers compared to regional cities. 

Those cities recorded drops up to 58% at some points in comparison to market towns that were down 36.6%, coastal towns down 37.4% and historic towns down 44.2%. Regional cities were down almost 50% for the year as a whole while Central London fell almost 60%.

The overall loss of footfall across the UK unsurprisingly translated into a huge sales decline for physical stores of 20% in 2020, compared with a decline of just 3% in 2019. 

Online spending increased significantly from representing 19.1% of total retail in 2019 to 27.4% in 2020. With more shoppers having been introduced to online shopping, Springboard expects that post-Covid, this will rebase at a higher level than before the global pandemic, as a proportion of those online shoppers who were previously ‘store only’ shoppers are likely to continue to use this channel for at least some purchases. 

So is it downbeat on the prospects for physical retail post-Covid? Not at all. Post-Lockdowns 1 and 2, Springboard data highlighted “consumers’ need for human experience and interaction in retail as footfall rose by 40.3% in the first week following the easing of restrictions of both lockdowns.

“The longer consumers are subject to restrictions the greater the desire for this will be,” it said.

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