UK retailers hit by first weekly fall in shoppers since Covid lockdown

UK shopping destinations have recorded the first weekly drop in visitor numbers since lockdown in late April, as the end of the summer holidays and reopening of schools deterred consumers from visiting high streets.

As concerns mount over a second wave in coronavirus infections, footfall at retail destinations across Britain fell by 6.3% last week from a week earlier, according to figures from the research provider Springboard.

Raising the alarm for embattled retailers after a summer in which shoppers only gradually returned to high streets as lockdown measures were relaxed, the annual decline in visitor numbers worsened to 27.5% from a drop of 25% the week before.

Springboard said a weekly drop in footfall at the end of the summer holiday season was normal, as families with children make fewer trips to the shops after a late rush before the reopening of schools, and the numbers of tourists and day trippers melt away.

However, it said the decline this year was the biggest since it began measuring retail footfall in 2009, suggesting an impact from the coronavirus crisis as typically office-based staff continue to work from home.

Diane Wehrle, the insights director at Springboard, said: “The magnitude of the drop has been larger than in any previous year. This signifies the continued impact of many Britons continuing to work from home as offices across the UK remain closed.”

The latest snapshot comes as the government pushes to get office staff back to their usual place of work in an attempt to protect Britain’s biggest urban economies from collapse. However, separate figures from the Centre for Cities thinktank for the last week in August show there has been no national increase in worker footfall so far, as employers defy the government drive amid continuing fears over Covid-19.

According to Springboard, shopping centres recorded the sharpest drop in footfall, with a 9% plunge in visitor numbers compared with the first week in September. High streets and retail parks also recorded declines in footfall of more than 5%.

At the end of the summer holiday season, footfall in coastal towns and historic towns – which have recorded an increase in domestic visitors this year as Covid-19 disrupted overseas travel – fell by more than in high streets generally.

However, Springboard said this did not mean people returned to offices, as there was also a decline in footfall in regional cities. There was though a smaller decline in London of just 3%, offering a glimmer of hope for retailers in the capital after suffering a steeper decline in visitor numbers than other cities. Footfall in London remains down by more than half compared with a year ago.

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