Visits to UK stores rose in August as workers began to return to offices but activity remained well below pre-pandemic levels, a British Retail Consortium survey showed.
Total footfall rose by 10 percentage points in August from July but was 18% lower than two years earlier, the survey showed. Retail parks had the biggest gain, showing a 13.4-point rise from July and a 25% drop from two years earlier.
At high street stores footfall rose 9.8 points month on month and was 25% lower than two years before. Visits to shopping centres rose 5.5 points from July and were down 33% from August 2019. On top of a partial return to offices, shopping was boosted by tourism and families preparing for the new school year.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Following months of little improvement, August footfall was a tentative step in the right direction. There were minor improvements with the return of some workers to the office and domestic tourism through August, however overall footfall remained significantly down compared to the pre-pandemic peak.”
London remained the retail market most affected by the pandemic with footfall down 29.5% from two years earlier followed by Scotland and all of England. Northwest England was the least affected, registering a 10.8% drop from August 2019. All UK cities had better shopper counts in August from a month earlier.
Andy Sumpter, a consultant at Sensormatic Solutions, said: “Bolstered by staycationer shopper traffic and the back to school boost, August saw footfall recovering to its highest point compared to pre-pandemic levels so far this year. In every UK city we track – including London, which has sorely felt the impact of slow returning commuter trade in recent months – showed improved shopper counts, as vaccine confidence won out against the fears and spread of the Delta variant.”
Sumpter said that, amid a shortage of lorry drivers and with supply chains disrupted by Brexit, retailers would have to get stock on to shelves for the recovery to continue as the sector heads into its busiest period in the run-up to Christmas.
Times remain tough for the UK’s retailers amid shaky consumer confidence and pressure from rising costs. Bank of England figures showed households wary of spending and a recent BRC survey said price rises in stores were on the way because of increasing commodity and transport prices, Brexit red tape and other factors.