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Coronavirus: Shoppers hit high streets as retail footfall keeps rising

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
A shopper wearing a protective face mask walks past the Bull statue outside the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham, central England on August 22, 2020, as Britain's second-city, home to more than one million people, was made an "area of enhanced support", because of concern about a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A shopper outside the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Footfall has continued to rise in retail areas across the UK this month, new figures suggest, with restaurant discounts, the re-opening of leisure firms and good weather tempting shoppers.

Data from leading footfall tracking firm Springboard shows a 4.1% rise last week compared to the previous week. It marks an acceleration of week-on-week growth, following a 0.8% rise one week earlier.

Experts said that coronavirus quarantine measures could also be boosting shopper numbers, with fewer people going overseas during the summer.

London and the south-east saw some of the biggest increases in footfall, according to the latest figures.

But it comes amid a wave of mass job losses at high street giants in recent months despite lockdown restrictions easing. Shopper numbers on high streets, in shopping centres and out-of-town retail parks, remain well below pre-virus levels. Footfall was down 30.7% compared to the same week a year ago, though the gap continued to narrow for a 16th week in a row.

The UK government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme is widely seen to have boosted trade for many retailers, with more customers both eating out and shopping.

READ MORE: UK retail rebound ‘masks a crisis’ as high street job losses grow

The scheme was designed to revive Britain’s ailing hospitality sector, with the government funding a half-price discount up to £10 on eat-in food and drink.

The programme has run throughout August on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and is due to finish this week. JD Wetherspoon said on Monday it expected a more “subdued” period of sales as the discounts end.

It comes after official figures showed retail sales rebounding more strongly than expected by analysts in July. The volume of sales rose 2% between June and July, taking both the quantity and value of total sales to higher levels than a year earlier.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “It seems that the increased quarantine measures imposed last week on a number of overseas destinations are having a positive impact on UK footfall. Footfall in UK retail destinations last week not only rose on a week on week basis, but the uplift was more than four times as large as the week before, and two and a half times as large as the same week last year.”

“Once again, consumers have shown a willingness to spend in stores, due to a combination of pent up demand and relatively resilient consumer confidence.” added Kien Tan, senior retail adviser at PwC, on Friday when the official data was released.

READ MORE: Eat Out to Help Out is propping up Wetherspoon during COVID-19

Tan said the re-opening of leisure facilities at the start of July will have also boosted high street footfall, while other analysts have highlighted the impact of good weather.

But business chiefs have previously warned the rebound has divided retail into “winners and losers,” with clothing retailers among those continuing to suffer most.

Fashion sales are down by a quarter on pre-virus levels, according to official statistics. The wider recession, including widespread job and pay cuts, as well as virus fears and social distancing rules continue to curb retailers’ recovery after lockdown.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), called on Friday for measures protecting shops from aggressive debt collection to be extended.

“Some retailers haven’t been able to pay their rent for the period where they were required to close for our national benefit and numbers of job losses and shop closures are rising,” she said last week.