Sep 13, 2021
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Hope for city centre retail as office workers return

Sep 13, 2021

City centre retail has been the biggest sufferer from the pandemic as tourists haven’t yet returned in large numbers to the UK and office workers continue to be based at home. But there’s some hope, with signs of office workers making a return to semi-normal working patterns.


Last week saw good signs that the daily commute is back with Springboard saying that office footfall rose almost 5% between Tuesday and Thursday. That came after the tube system in London recorded its busiest Monday morning since the pandemic started, perhaps spurred by office workers free to travel now that their kids have returned to school.

Further evidence of the return was seen as food-to-go giant Pret a Manger said it saw a spike in demand for takeaways sandwiches and coffee. Its CEO said at the weekend that trading rose 15% last week.

Now, while sales of tube tickets and sandwiches may not directly reflect what’s happening in retail stores, every one of those tube travellers is a potential shopper and every sandwich sold could also mean the purchaser deciding to pop into the nearby Next, Boots, Reiss, H&M or Superdrug at the same time.

Pret a Manger’s CEO said city centre sandwich shop sales are now at 80% of pre-pandemic levels and — a strong sign that tourism is recovering — airport shop sales are improving too.

A Reuters report last week also pointed to between 20% and 50% of office workers in the City returning at least part-time.

And the Fashionnetwork.com team’s own observation in the West End, Knightsbridge, Covent Garden and the City suggest activity picked up last week compared to July and August with busier stores and restaurants and more American and European accents being heard in some locations.

But it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go. Tourist travel remains weak and Springboard said footfall to offices tailed off at the end of last week. This perhaps reflected new hybrid working patterns in which consumers continue to work at home part of the time. This suggests that the former busiest days for city centre stores (Thursdays and Fridays) might be permanently challenged for the foreseeable future.

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