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Omicron threat sees weekend shoppers abandon city centres

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Concerns over the Omicron variant of Covid-19 saw shoppers increasingly abandoning retail destinations towards the end of last week, with retail analysis released on Monday showing a sharp drop in footfall in large city centres over the weekend.
Retail data outfit Springboard said that overall, footfall across UK retail destinations rose 5.5% last week from the week before, but that over the weekend it declined by 8.5% in central London and by 6.4% in cities outside of the capital.

That meant that in high streets across the UK, footfall declined 2.6% over the final pre-Christmas weekend.

Springboard said the week’s footfall increase dropped sharply from Tuesday, when footfall rose by 15.6%, to just 2.6% on Friday.

That was a precursor to a disappointing performance over the weekend, when footfall rose by just 0.8% on Saturday, and dropped by 1.4% on Sunday.

In contrast, the footfall in market towns was up by 3.4%, and the picture in shopping centres was somewhat more positive, with a rise of 0.5% over the weekend, although retail parks were the most popular of the three destination types, with a rise in footfall of 4.7%.

Springboard said that would have partly been down to shoppers trying to get a head start in buying food and groceries, given the “vast majority” of retail parks have a food store on them, although it would also have been the result of the ‘Covid-friendly’ open-air nature of retail parks, with large stores that could be easily reached by car, and free parking.

The outcome of the disappointing week was that footfall ended 19.1% lower than in 2019, worsening from 17.7% lower in the week before.

However, in contrast with 2020, the picture still improved, with footfall last week being 22.5% higher than in the same week last year, compared with 18.1% higher in the week before.

“Despite the introduction of Plan B guidance to work from home and the significant rise in Covid infections, footfall rose last week across UK retail destinations,” said Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle.

“However, the growing nervousness of consumers meant that increases dwindled with each day that passed, and by Friday the uplift in footfall was around just a quarter of that on Wednesday.

“This provided a forewarning for subdued performance of bricks and mortar stores and destinations over the weekend which, whilst regarded as the peak shopping weekend of the year, is exactly what occurred.”

Wehrle noted that on Saturday, footfall increased “only very marginally” from the week before, and on Sunday it was lower than the week before.

“The nervousness of shoppers about making in-person shopping visits inevitably meant that large city centres lost out to smaller high streets, particularly over the weekend when footfall declined from the week before in central London and large cities outside of the capital, whilst rising in market towns.”

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