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UK footfall rises in reopening week but stays low and West End struggles

Published
Jun 22, 2020
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Reports of how store visitor traffic fared last week as English shops began to reopen varied from the euphoric to the despairing with news headlines bouncing from initial stories about long queues to later reports of empty high streets.


Rain and other issues dented visitor traffic to the West End last week - Photo: Sandra Halliday



But on Monday, specialist footfall tracking firm Springboard released its figures for visitor traffic from June 15 up to June 21 and showed that yes, footfall rose, but that it was still weak by normal standards.

And London’s West End was the biggest loser with a key representative from the area calling for more government measures.

Springboard said footfall across all UK retail destinations rose by 45% from the previous week.

In England, where the reopenings were concentrated, footfall rose by 46.7% from the week before, compared with just 8.5% in Wales and 11.5% in Scotland, where non-essential stores were still shut. 

In the West End of London, footfall rose from the week before by slightly more than across England’s high streets (+55.9% in the West End versus +51.1% in England). 

But year-on-year, the figures didn’t look great and footfall in the West End remained at a vastly lower level than in June 2019. It was 80.8% lower compared to 2019, while year-on-year footfall was down a smaller 59.2% in England’s high streets overall.

That's perhaps no surprise as the absence of tourists (both international and UK visitors) and the fact that many office workers were still working from home caused a huge vacuum in the West End. The wet weather didn't help either.

At least the average year-on-year footfall decrease across the country was only 54% compared to the -80% it had been at the height of the lockdown.

Another piece of good news was that visitor traffic increased on every single day of the week meaning that shops didn't see a Monday rush followed by a shopper ‘drought’ from Tuesday through to Sunday. .

That said, Monday was busier than most other days, although Sunday saw the biggest uplift. Footfall across the UK rose by more than 30% each day from the same day in the week before, apart from on Thursday when there was heavy rain, but even then, footfall still rose by 25.1% on the week.

The clearest indication of the impact of non-essential retail reopening was evident from the uplifts in footfall in high streets and shopping centres, where very few stores were open before June 15. Footfall rose in UK high streets and shopping centres by 47.5% and 45% respectively. These rises were nearly double the increase in footfall in retail parks (27.1%), reflecting the fact that retail parks had already recorded increases over the preceding weeks. In retail parks, food stores and home stores were already trading, so the increase in footfall was more modest.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, said: “The overall result for the UK was subdued by Scotland and Wales where retail reopening is yet to happen. We anticipate an additional uplift to come when retail in these areas of the UK also reopens and the hospitality and entertainment industry is given the green light to resume trading in the coming weeks.”

And Jace Tyrrell, Chief Executive at New West End Company, added: “The disparity between the national and central London footfall figures highlights the need for further government action to ensure that retail and hospitality businesses can run viably throughout the summer and beyond. In the West End, we are hindered by a lack of international visitors and restrictions to the use of public transport, and businesses are being further held back by unnecessary regulations. 

“Measures including reducing social distancing measures from 2m to 1m, the temporary relaxation of planning and licensing regulations for bars and restaurants, and relaxing Sunday trading laws in key retail destinations will boost sales and sustain footfall of local shoppers, then domestic and overseas visitors, and ensure that our businesses can survive through the summer months.”

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