Mar 31, 2022
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Towns see footfall surge, but Oxford Street struggles - report

Mar 31, 2022

UK retail footfall continues to lag pre-pandemic levels by a large margin with February footfall down 23% compared to the last normal month before Covid hit, the latest data from Datscha, analysed by RSM shows.

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But different locations are seeing sharply varying impacts, with London's Oxford Street one of the biggest sufferers, yet some other towns around the country actually enjoying a football uplift.

Oxford Street – which was Europe's busiest shopping thoroughfare pre-pandemic – saw it's footfall down 46% in February and some other city centres also struggled as tourism and office worker flows remind muted. Footfall on Manchester’s Market Street was down 38% and Newcastle’s Northumberland Street was down 37%. Footfall on Buchanan Street in Glasgow remained 25% lower.

Its hopes that the removal of restrictions on international travel and the requirement for self isolation and testing could drive a quick boost to those locations, particularly if the weather improves after February was heavily affected by winter storms.

Yet the accelerated move to online shopping could continue to challenge these key city centres. That said, some physical locations have enjoyed a major boost in recent periods as shoppers have switched to more local stores.

The report said Guildford, Leeds and Brighton are bucking the trend, with increases in footfall of 28%, 7% and 2%, respectively, when compared to pre-pandemic figures. 

“This is likely to have been boosted by Guildford and Brighton homeworkers shopping on their local high streets rather than commuting into London”, RSM said. But it added that “the increase in footfall in Leeds is likely to be due to more workers returning to the office”.

Jacqui Baker, partner and head of retail, said: “Despite high street footfall being below pre-pandemic levels, there’s hope that the worst of the pandemic is now behind us, particularly with the removal of all Covid restrictions which is a huge step in the right direction for the sector. Keeping the best of in-store through the retention of good staff and investing in technology to enhance the customer experience will be key in helping the sector regain its pace.”

She sees ongoing headwinds, however: “Consumer confidence is already fragile due to the pandemic and is now facing another setback as a result of the cost of living crisis. Fears of soaring energy costs, higher mortgage repayments and increased petrol prices are all squeezing incomes and creating competition for household spend, which, in turn, may impact future footfall.

“Retailers face an upcoming pinch point from 1 April as the national minimum wage and national insurance increase kicks in, along with the end of Covid support schemes. Many retailers will have been underwhelmed with the Chancellor’s Spring Statement with no mention of the long-awaited business rates reform – a real missed opportunity to support retailers recover and thrive post-pandemic.”

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