Recovering city centre retail footfall hit by transport strikes
Over half a million UK-wide workers striking on Wednesday was always going to be a massive challenge for retail. And latest figures showed related footfall dipped greatly, according to insight from MRI Springboard.
But the figures also show Thursday was less of a problem as comparisons with last week’s severe winter weather were much easier and many strikers went back to work and undertook the daily commute, despite rail strikes.
The mass staff walkouts and accompanying protests from schools, universities, hospitals, Tube stations and government buildings resulted in an across-the-board 11.1% decline in week-on-week footfall up to mid-day Wednesday. Given the transport issues, it was unlikely that footfall picked up in the afternoon.
City centres across the UK — which have only recently begun to recover from the pandemic — were hit by a 9.6% dip compared to the previous Wednesday.
Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at MRI Springboard, said: “This [overall] decline is even more significant than usual as it comes on the back of reduced footfall last Wednesday, when customer activity declined by 13.9% from the week before due to severe weather.
Of the three destination types, retail parks were the hardest hit with a drop in footfall of 21.3% from last Wednesday, “although part of this will have been a result of a stronger result than the other two destination types last Wednesday when footfall in retail parks declined by just 7% versus 18.4% in high streets and 11.3% in shopping centres”, noted Wehrle.
Footfall was lower than last week in all but two geographies (Greater London and the South West) with the greatest drops from last week occurring in Northern Ireland, North & Yorkshire and Scotland.
The gap from last year widened further to -13.6% from -7.9% last Wednesday with the gap from 2019 growing to -34.1%, a third wider than last Wednesday when it stood at -23.9%.
On Thursday, footfall across all UK retail destinations up to 12pm actually rose by 14.3% compared to last week. Central London bucked the trend though, with weekly footfall sinking by 4.8% in the capital.
Employees in London clearly opted to work from home amid rail strikes, with MRI Springboard's Central London 'Back to the Office' benchmark highlighting an 8.4% week-on-week drop. Footfall in London was also likely impacted by severe delays across the Tube network Thursday morning, as Underground workers returned following Wednesday’s strikes.
Wehrle added: “Despite the rail strike hitting most of the UK today, footfall rose by from last week. Footfall rose in all three key destination types (by 13.8% in high streets, by 13.6% in shopping centres and by 16.3% in retail parks). However these rises come from a low base as they follow drops in week on week drops last Thursday (-7.8% across all UK destinations) when the severe weather across the UK impacted footfall.
“Although footfall rose today from last week, it remains 2.4% lower than in the same week in 2022 across all UK retail destinations, 7.4% lower than 2022 in high streets and 11.2% lower than 2022 in Central London.”
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