Retail footfall surge on ‘Freedom Day’ simmers down during heatwave

So-called ‘Freedom Day’ in England saw a rise in retail footfall across the UK last week, fresh data revealed on Monday, with the hot weather seeing some destinations enjoying a larger share of that increase.
According to retail analysts Springboard, overall retail footfall rose by 3.3% week-on-week with increases across all three destination types, although a 4.1% increase in shopping centres compared to 3.3% in high streets suggested shoppers were seeking a respite from the heatwave in covered, climate-controlled environments.

Footfall surged by 16.5% on Monday 19 July, when all remaining pandemic restrictions were lifted in England for ‘Freedom Day’, but from Tuesday onwards the uplift from the prior week was more modest as the heatwave intensified, averaging 1.7%.

The effect of the intense heat, the end of the school summer term on Tuesday, and apparent nervousness among shoppers created by the ‘pingdemic’, in which hundreds of thousands are being alerted to close contacts by NHS tracking apps, was evident in the results, according to Springboard.

Footfall in coastal towns was much stronger than in high streets generally, with a rise of 11% from the week before, with the exodus to the coast demonstrated further by a decline in footfall in Greater London of -0.7%, contrasting with rises of 5.4% in the South West and 6.5% in the East.

The impact of the heat on customer activity was also evident by a rise in footfall of 12.8% after 20:00 when the weather cools somewhat, compared to 2.8% before 20:00.

In the South West, the contrast was said to be even starker, with a rise of 18.6% after 20:00 versus 4.2% earlier in the day, and 2.9% before 17:00.

The overall results for the week left the gap in footfall from the 2019 pre-pandemic level largely unchanged, being down 23.3% across UK retail destinations compared to being 24.9% lower in the previous week.

However, the 10.8% uplift in footfall in retail parks on ‘Freedom Day’ itself was enough to close the gap from 2019 completely, reaching 0.4% above the pre-pandemic level,, even though the rise was more modest than shopping centres and high streets on 19 July.

“Following an above average start to the week as a result of ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday 19 July, the growth in footfall in UK retail destinations slowed considerably from Tuesday onwards,” said Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle.

“This is likely to be driven by a combination of the extreme heat, the start of the school summer break, and an increased nervousness amongst shoppers in visiting potentially crowded areas created by the growing ‘pingdemic’ which could force them to self-isolate.

“This is demonstrated by a proportionately greater rise in footfall in coastal towns, and also in the evening post 20:00, when it was cooler but which is the period of the day that accounts for the smallest proportion of footfall and when the vast majority of stores are closed with only hospitality outlets trading.”

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