UK high street footfall drops ahead of busiest shopping weekend of the year

Visits to high streets and shopping centres have fallen ahead of what is traditionally the biggest shopping weekend of the calendar, 与 20% fall in central London footfall on Thursday prompting forecasts of a “muted” end to a turbulent year.

Retailers including Harrods and Halfords have brought forward Christmas sales in a bid to entice shoppers, but outlets hoping for a last-minute spending frenzy look set to be out of luck, as fears over the Omicron coronavirus variant keep many at home in the final run-up to Christmas.

Figures from Springboard show that visits to high streets around the UK on Thursday morning were down 2.7% on the previous week’s figure, while visits to shopping centres had fallen by 2.6%. Retail parks had, in contrast, recorded a 3.8% lift.

在伦敦, where Omicron cases have surged, Springboard recorded a 21.3% drop in footfall to central districts. The New West End Company, which represents retailers and business around Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, said footfall there was down by 7% year-on-year on Thursday, 和 32% below the same day in 2019.

Its CEO, Jace Tyrrell, 说: “With rising Covid cases dampening consumer confidence and a planned Tube strike looming on Saturday, we’re anticipating a muted final weekend of Christmas trading at a time when West End businesses should be enjoying a much-needed boost.”

Retail analysts said the shift could in part be down to shoppers having bought presents early this year. 和 warnings over potential shortages of toys and other Christmas gifts caused by supply chain issues, and heavy promotion of Black Friday sales, the figures suggest consumers pulled forward festive spending to ensure they got the items they wanted.

Data released by the Office for National Statistics on Friday showed higher spending in November, with retail up 1.4%. Clothing sales were up by 2.9%, and there was a 2.8% increase in other non-food store spending, which includes computer, toy and jewellery retail.

Joanna Parman, a strategic insights director at consultancy Kantar, 说: “Toys had a massive November as people went out and bought the big presents. People are still going to toy shops, and other places to buy gifts, but it seems that most people have bought all of their main shopping.”

Shoppers may also be staying away due to concerns about protecting family gatherings. Dr Steven McCabe, a retail expert at Birmingham City University, said November’s retail sales figures “may be regarded as a calm before the latest Covid storm”.

“Omicron has changed everything with potential consequences for hard-pressed retailers,“ 他说. “Professor Chris Whitty’s advice that people think carefully about the need to engage in contact with others means many may be wary of visiting the high street and potentially exposing themselves to risk of infection.”

星期四, Harrods announced it had brought forward its traditional Boxing Day sale “in response to ongoing trading realities”. 在周五, Halfords – which has held early sales in previous years – followed suit, cutting the cost of some children’s scooters by 40%. Both are running the sales online and in shops.

The drop in footfall follows what had started to look like a recovery for physical stores. The ONS said the proportion of retail sales taking place online had fallen to 26.9% 十一月 2021, its lowest level since March 2020 when the pandemic first began to take hold.

Emma-Lou Montgomery, associate director of personal investing at Fidelity International, said the lead-up to 25 December “looks to be far from the Christmas bonanza high-street retailers had their hopes pinned on”.

她补充说: “This year’s ‘last-minute’ Christmas shopping is more likely to be dependent on the army of delivery drivers that have kept retailers in business since the start of the pandemic, as opposed to the more ‘traditional’ Christmas Eve dash to grab whatever’s left on the shop shelves.

“Harrods opening up their Boxing Day sale to the public 10 days early shows just how reactive retailers will have to be to combat against any self-imposed lockdowns households may be implementing between now and the big day.”

Parman said she expected shoppers to still make trips to supermarkets to buy food, but that these visits would be more staggered than pre-pandemic as people looked for quiet times.

A report by website VoucherCodes showed that £2.81bn was spent on the final weekend before Christmas in 2019, and £2.4bn over the same period last year. It has forecast sales will hit £2.75bn in what it has dubbed “panic weekend”.

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