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Published on June 8th, 2021 | by The GC Team

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Footfall “improves” in May but still far from pre-pandemic levels

According to BRC-Sensormatic IQ data for the four weeks 2-29 May 2021, further easing in restrictions and the continuing vaccine rollout contributed to a marked improvement in footfall across UK retail locations. Compared to the previous month (April), footfall increased by 12.3%.

However, comparison with previous years shows that recovery has some way to go. To obtain “meaningful” comparisons to longer-term changes in footfall, the BRC is not comparing 2021 on a year-on-year (YoY) basis with 2020, which was somewhat chaotic in terms of on-off restrictions, but has, for 2021, compared figures with 2019, the last “normal” pre-pandemic year. This year-on-two-year (Yo2Y) approach shows that total UK footfall decreased by 27.2% in May 2021, compared to May 2019.    

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief-Executive of British Retail Consortium, said:
“May saw footfall levels improve across the UK’s high streets, retail parks and shopping centres. This was in part due to the further easing of Covid restrictions, including the reopening of indoor hospitality, which enticed consumers back to shopping locations knowing they could grab a drink or something to eat whilst enjoying a spot of retail therapy. The successful vaccination roll-out has also boosted consumer confidence and contributed to the improvement in footfall. However, restrictions on travel have denied many businesses, particularly those in our larger town and city centres, of vital overseas tourist spending.

“Nonetheless, footfall levels are still significantly down on two years ago. Many high streets have an increasing number of vacant shops, and many retailers still face significant and mounting debts, and with £2.9 billion in unpaid rents built up over the pandemic. The Government should ringfence these lockdown rent debts to provide the breathing space for footfall and cash flows to recover, and enable landlords and tenants to work on equitable and long-term solutions for the future and avert terminal decline in many communities.”

Andy Sumpter, Retail Consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, added: “May saw a slow but steady recovery for the High Street as shoppers continued to return to bricks-and-mortar stores.  The improved shopper counts will have been helped by the reopening of indoor hospitality, which helped drive ambient footfall as consumers combined store visits with leisure and socialising. 

“While still down compared to pre-pandemic levels, we’ve seen cautious but consistent improvement to footfall with each passing month as society unlocks and the vaccine roll-out continues at pace, giving retailers a cause for cautious optimism.  However, the prospect of a sustained recovery is still very much hanging in the balance, with variants of concern and an uptick in infection rates threatening to undermine consumer confidence, and the final stage of unlocking far from a fait accompli.”

Johannis Hatt, CEO of ecommerce software company Productsup, reminded retailers that the lag in footfall compared to pre-pandemic levels is not necessarily solely down to the pandemic; the growth in the popularity of ecommerce is a factor. “With the final June 21st unlocking on the horizon,” he said, “it will become clearer than ever that despite no Covid restrictions being in place in the UK, consumers are keener than ever on online shopping. Retailers must create seamless shopping experiences that feel familiar to both those who prefer to shop online and those who value the high street. To truly capitalise on the post-pandemic spending spree, a seamless omnichannel experience needs to be struck.

“Nevertheless, it’s brilliant to see the UK economy finding its feet again, with the surge in footfall encouraging for those who have remained focused on physical stores and this will no doubt continue to increase once shopper’s post-pandemic confidence bounces back completely. Our future is undoubtedly a combination of both online and offline experiences, tailored to the way people’s lives have changed, and BRC’s figures are a testament to that.”

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