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High street shoppers begin to return as restrictions ease

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Footfall still remains 40% down compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Photo: Getty Images

Footfall at UK retail destinations in April went up when compared to a month ago, as lockdown restrictions ease, but it is still significantly lower than pre-pandemic times.

Non-essential retail stores reopened their doors on 12 April. Total UK footfall in April 2020 saw a 28.7 percentage point improvement from March 2020, but decreased by 40% when compared with April 2019, as per the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-Sensormatic IQ data.

Chart: BRC-Sensormatic IQ Footfall Monitor
Chart: BRC-Sensormatic IQ Footfall Monitor

This was above the three-month average decline of 59.2%.

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, said “while footfall still remains 40% down compared with pre-pandemic levels in 2019, consumer demand signals for a return to in-store shopping were promising.”

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Meanwhile, BRC chief Helen Dickinson said that “while shops have worked incredibly hard to provide consumers with a safe and enjoyable shopping experience, it is unlikely we will see a return to pre-pandemic levels of footfall anytime soon, as social distancing measures naturally restrict retailers’ capacity.”

Even as shops open, social distancing rules continue to apply, limiting the number of people that can be in stores at one time. Face masks will be compulsory except for people who are exempt.

Retail parks saw footfall decrease by 30.5%, a 6.3 percentage point improvement from March, and above the three-month average decline of 35.4%.

Shopping centre footfall declined by 49.8% compared with April 2019. This was better than the three-month average decline of 67.2%.

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“Growing consumer demand and footfall in the months ahead will be vital for the survival of many retailers, as they start to see costs increasing as stores reopen and colleagues return from furlough,” said Dickinson.

“With full business rates relief ending in England in June, the ongoing rates review needs to deliver on its objectives to reform the broken rates system and reduce the financial pressures on retailers, otherwise many stores and viable jobs will be under threat,” she added.

Sensormatic Solutions research has shown that 71% of shoppers want to make a conscious effort to shop in-store now that retail has reopened, with many having missed the experience of in-store shopping and other saying ‘screen fatigue’ had set in.

“Retailers will be hoping that the lift in shopper traffic seen during the first few weeks of unlocking can be sustained past pent-up demand in order to fuel long-term recovery. Our research shows an overwhelming amount of consumer support for bricks-and-mortar retail,” said Sumpter.

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