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UK retail footfall plummets to lowest point since May

Mhari Aurora
·3 min read
A deserted high street in Wrexham, Wales, where retail footfall has plummeted due to national lockdown. Photo: PA
A deserted high street in Wrexham, Wales, where retail footfall has plummeted due to national lockdown. Photo: PA

UK retail footfall has plummeted due to coronavirus restrictions as January saw it at its lowest point since May 2020.

Wales is the worst hit nation, seeing a 79.1% year-on-year decline according to data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and ShopperTrak.

UK high streets and shopping centres have been dealt a particularly hard blow as they saw a 73.3% and 78.2% reduction in footfall respectively.

With numerous lockdowns during the pandemic, footfall in the UK fell by 76.9% in January, which is the largest UK footfall decline since the 81.6% drop in May 2020.

BRC chief executive, Helen Dickinson, said: “The future uncertainty for closed retailers puts many jobs and stores at risk.

“In the face of rising rents and return to full business rates liability from April, businesses are having to make business decisions about their future.

“Government must reassure those hardest hit by the pandemic that they will receive vital financial support.

“Without urgent action, including a targeted extension to business rates relief, we will continue to see the collapse of more stores and consequent loss of many more thousands of jobs.”

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Data was collected for four weeks in January, and England saw a 78% year-on-year drop in footfall, in comparison to its 76% decline in the second lockdown and 82% drop in the first lockdown.

Scotland saw a slightly less drastic drop of 72.5%, but Northern Ireland saw a 66.4% decline in footfall – the least substantial fall out of the four nations.

Shopping centres have seen a huge 78.2% decline in footfall, overtaking high streets for the first time since July 2020; however, high streets have nonetheless been badly hit with lockdown restrictions causing a 73.3% drop.

Retail parks also suffered in January witnessing a 40.9% year-on-year plummet in footfall, which is the largest drop it has seen since the first lockdown during the pandemic where it saw a 55% decline.

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Andy Sumpter, ShopperTrak EMEA retail consultant, said: “While it’s easy to let shuttered stores paint a bleak picture for the future of the high street – with many retailers now having faced almost a full year of store reopenings and closures as waves of covid-19 have ebbed and flowed – it’s important to remember that when retail has reopened from lockdown, demand for in-store shopping has returned each time.

“And while the pandemic may have accelerated ‘Retail Darwinism’, those that have used this time as an opportunity to reset and invest in the operational foundations to meet new demands will be well placed to capitalise on pent-up demand for the in-person shopping experiences we have all been missing, as well as setting themselves up for strong, long-term growth.”

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