Mar 4, 2021
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UK footfall climbed in February, hints at huge pent-up demand

Mar 4, 2021

UK footfall climbed steadily during February and while the year-on-year decline compared to a year ago remained huge (-61%), it was better than the -65.6% seen in January.

Photo: Public domain/Pixabay

Tracking specialist Springboard has been reporting a number of steady week-on-week declines over the past month and on Thursday, its aggregated figures for the month underlined how the recovery in footfall is marked, but also patchy in different retail destinations.

For instance, retail parks were down only 34.5% year-on-year, but high streets were down 68.2% and shopping centres (where the large number of non-essential stores is currently a big issue) were down 71.4%.

But to look on the bright side, footfall in February was up 16% compared to January as Springboard described a steady erosion of consumer willingness to stay home and the growth of “lockdown fatigue”. Footfall in all three destination types rose between January and February.

The company said that "reinforces [our] forecast for a significant uplift in footfall in retail destinations in the first week of reopening [in England] on 12th April 2021 of 47.9%”.

But bouncing back clearly won’t be easy. It added that “the overall level of footfall in retail destinations is still only 39% of that in 2020, and when footfall peaked in August 2020 after reopening in June, it still remained 25% below the level in the year before. This indicates that retailers will have a significant amount of ground to make up to recover to anywhere near pre-Covid levels reinforcing the need for the High Street Restart Grants to support retailers announced by the Chancellor in the Budget”.

Yet there’s a growing belief that pent-up demand might just mean a faster bounce-back that currently predicted. That lockdown fatigue , plus reports about the levels of savings UK consumers have and the holiday bookings they’ve been making all point to a willingness to spend. 

The return to physical stores after lockdown ended last June was slow, but consumers were nervous about the pandemic back then. The combination of many more months of lockdown and a successful vaccination rollout could mean it’s different this time.

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