Shopper footfall hike raises fears of wider post-Christmas UK lockdown
December footfall predictions appear to have been below the mark with the reopening of non-essential shops in England boosting visitor traffic more than expected.
But with increasing uneasiness over rising coronavirus infection rates across the UK, there are also suggestions that the large number of people mixing in shops over the festive period were what led to the tier 4 rules for London and the South east and could lead to stricter limitations after Christmas elsewhere.
On Friday, Ipsos Retail Performance (IRP) said shopper footfall in the first week after England’s lockdown ended was up 24.2% compared to the week before the stricter measures were introduced (the week starting October 25).
IRP has now raised its forecast for shopper numbers in December. It had earlier predicted that non-food footfall in December would be down 55.7% on 2019, but it now expects its to be down ’only’ 32.9%, “assuming current Government policies remain unchanged”.
Dr Tim Denison, IRP’s director of retail intelligence and co-founder of the KPMG/Ipsos Retail Think Tank, explained: “We were all in the dark as to how shoppers would respond to the reopening of stores in England after the second lockdown. Concerns over shoppers being put off from venturing out because of potential crowds were pitted against the feeling that many people were struggling for inspiration online and wanted to visit shops to stimulate their Christmas present ideas.
“The outcome was a small victory for bricks-and-mortar retailing; it was a busier week than we had expected in the stores that were able to re-open. Shoppers resumed where they left off in October, confident that retailers would provide a safe shopping environment and thankful to get out and about.”
But he added that while the introduction of stricter restrictions in London and the South East could see shopper numbers fall in these areas, “footfall has remained resolute in the North and Midlands where tighter measures have been in place for some time, so the signs remain promising for the high street in the final week before Christmas”.
Of course, the big issue remains whether crowded shops might push infection rates higher and spur tighter restrictions from the government across more of the country than just London, the South East and Wales.
Of those testing positive for the virus at the moment, the numbers who’ve visited shops in the previous week are in double-digits. It doesn’t mean they caught the virus in a store, just that they visited one. But with the authorities increasingly concerned that the pandemic could get worse before mass vaccination is rolled out, shops could be in the firing line.
Northern Ireland has already mandated non-essential store closures post-Christmas and with headlines like “Sea of shoppers flood Oxford Street and West End”, a wider UK clampdown might not be far behind.
Ministers and council officials who just a fortnight ago were urging people to go shopping to boost the economy are now more often talking about them exercising caution, even in areas that are still in tiers 1, 2 and 3.
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