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Black Friday sales fail to boost UK retail footfall

A lack of international tourists and people still working from home meant a lacklustre Black Friday for retailers. Photo: Reuters
A lack of international tourists and people still working from home resulted in a lacklustre Black Friday for retailers. Photo: Reuters

Retail footfall was down in November despite hopes that the Black Friday and Cyber Monday discounts before the holiday season would boost sales. In fact, the November weeks leading up to Black Friday (26 November) saw more footfall than the last week of the month.

Springboard’s data showed footfall last month was down 14.5% compared to 2019 levels, before the pandemic hit. In October it had been down 13.4% compared to pre-pandemic times. The situation has improved from July, when footfall was 24.2% below the 2019 level.

In November, footfall declined by 15.8% in high streets, 22% in shopping centres and 3.6% in retail parks when compared to two years ago.

A key cause of the ongoing gap from the 2019 level is because not all of the population are back at work in a way that had been previously expected – 53% of those employed continue to work from home for at least part of the week.

Another reason is the lack of international tourism – a factor that looks unlikely to improve with concerns over the new Omicron COVID variant which is impacting travel – and a move to online shopping that was exacerbated by lockdowns.

Read more: UK house prices surge as annual growth jumps to 10%

The report said that the trend towards shopping online had begun even before the pandemic and, in the absence of COVID, it is likely that footfall would currently be around 3% lower than the 2019 level.

There was some progress in the first three weeks of November, with footfall moving from being down 14.8% in the second week to falling by 12.4% in the third week.

But “the relatively poor uplift in footfall in the last week of the month - Black Friday week - impacted the month as a whole,” said the report.

Black Friday was weaker than anticipated in all three destination types. In high streets, footfall over Black Friday was down compared to the previous week for the first time since the shopping event came to the UK – it was down by 11.9% in week three and down by 19.3% in week four.

“It is now a waiting game for retailers to see the full extent of the impact of the Omicron variant on bricks and mortar retail in December,” the report said.

Although footfall may have let retailers down, in terms of overall sales Black Friday 2021 might have been the biggest one yet in the country.

Shoppers reportedly spent more than one-fifth more than last year. The number of payments via Barclaycard were up 23% between midnight and 5pm compared with the same period in 2020, when most of the UK high street was in lockdown, and up 2.4% on 2019.

Nationwide said its customers had made 5.95m purchases by 5pm, 26% up on last year and 24% up on 2019.

Mark Nalder, head of payments at the Nationwide building society, said: “Black Friday spending has continued in line with our expectations and is still shaping up to be the busiest shopping day of the year.”

Watch: Why your bank statements might say buy-now-pay-later without you realising