Consumer caution around the Omicron variant of Covid-19 saw retail footfall slip back in December, with industry data on Friday showing an 18.6% decline in the month when compared to the pre-pandemic period two years prior – below the three-month average decline of 16.4%.
The British Retail Consortium’s Footfall Monitor also recorded a 2.9 percentage point decrease from October.
High streets were the most affected as shoppers stayed away from the largely pedestrian destinations, with footfall there declining 23.1% over the pre-Covid comparator in December, which was 3.5 percentage points below November’s rate, and below the three-month average decline of 20.7%.
Car-centred retail parks, meanwhile, saw footfall decrease by 9.2% over 2019, which was 5.1 percentage points below last month’s rate and below the three-month average decline of 5.1%, while visits to long-suffering shopping centres were down 36.6% compared to two years ago, which was 1.8 percentage points below last month’s rate, and below the three-month average decline of 34.6%.
Northern Ireland again saw the shallowest footfall decline out of the four nations at -10.8% compared to 2019, followed by Wales at -20.1% and England at -20.2%.
For the fifth consecutive month, Scotland saw the deepest decline at -22.8%.
“Much of the progress made over the last four months was wiped out in December as surging Omicron cases and new work-from-home advice deterred many from shopping in-store, particularly in towns and city centres,” said British Retail Consortium chief executive officer Helen Dickinson.
“As case numbers rose precipitously, many people chose to limit social mixing in the run up to Christmas and shop less frequently.
“Nevertheless, while UK footfall saw a moderate decline compared to previous months, it remained above levels of other major European economies, as the country avoided some of the more severe restrictions implemented elsewhere.”
Indeed, UK retailers still fared better than their continental counterparts, with declines on similar measures down in France by 23.5%, Spain by 25.2%, Italy by 37%, and Germany by 51.5%.
For the whole of 2021, total UK footfall was 33.2% below pre-pandemic levels, although that was up by 19.3% on the lockdown-impacted 2020.
“December footfall capped a challenging year for brick-and-mortar stores, which saw footfall down one-third on pre-pandemic levels, though this was a significant improvement on 2020,” Helen Dickinson added.
“With Christmas out the way, time will tell if shoppers return to their local high streets to embrace January sales and the arrival of spring collections.
“Still, retailers may have to work twice as hard to tempt many consumers back into the cold this January.”