Nov 5, 2020
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Retailers enjoy late flourish as shoppers rush out to spend ahead of England lockdown

Nov 5, 2020

Retailers enjoyed a brief but much-needed bounce ahead of Thursday’s new month-long lockdown in England, according to reports. Consumers headed out in force to shop before the blanket closure of stores selling goods deemed ‘non-essential'.

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Footfall was sharply higher in shopping centres and retail parks, according to retail data firm Springboard. Shopper numbers on Tuesday jumped 19% compared with the same day last week, its figures show.

Although no figures were available for Wednesday, consumer numbers must surely have leapt even higher in a last-minute bid to shop before stores closed for the last time until December.

Springboard noted that there had "clearly been panic buying" as people rush to buy Christmas presents before stores close.

Chris Geaves, head of Sovereign Centros, which operates shopping centres such as the MetroCentre complex in Gateshead, told the BBC on Wednesday that its sites had been "incredibly busy" in the last few days.

"With lockdown from tomorrow, people have thought: 'Crikey, I need to get out there shopping'," he said. "It's very positive and anecdotally, footfall has been strong, with big brands really having strong sales over the last few days.”

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said footfall had risen above 2019 levels for the first time in the pandemic.

"Despite essential stores remaining open during the lockdown there clearly has been panic buying, as footfall in retail parks on Monday and Tuesday actually rose from the same two days last year.

"Even in high streets and shopping centres footfall has strengthened, which is very likely due to shoppers buying Christmas presents early before stores close on Wednesday for a month”.

Meanwhile, the latest footfall figures from Ipsos Retail Performance show that shopper numbers continued to improve for the fifth successive month in October before the announcement of a second national lockdown in England.

The Retail Traffic Index (RTI) showed that average weekly footfall for the UK as a whole was 3.2% higher in October compared to September.

This represents a further narrowing of the gap against last year’s levels from a deficit of -39.6% in September to -38.8% in October, “despite the imposition of the firebreak in Wales on 23rd of the month and the local lockdowns elsewhere in parts of England and Scotland”.

Contrary to expectations, shopper numbers across non-food stores in the UK rose against September’s in the regions most affected by the restrictions. For example, in Northern England it rose by 2.1% and in the Midlands the gain was higher still, up 6.9% on the previous month, having improved for six weeks on the bounce.

Dr Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at Ipsos, said: “The re-closure of non-essential stores taking place in England from 5 November is totally understandable and correct in terms of trying to contain the virus, but it is the last thing that retailers need, especially when people’s confidence to shop in the high street has steadily recovered over the past five months.

“This comes at a particularly important time of the year for retailers with the festive season fast approaching and Black Friday just around the corner - an eagerly awaited fixture on the retail calendar for the past decade.”

Dr Denison concluded: “Since March, retailers have known that they needed to invest in their online operational and marketing capabilities in order to be able to serve their customers remotely. The silver lining to the latest closures is that they have already scaled up and are more fit-for-purpose than ever before”.

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