The shift to hybrid working kept high street footfall 18% down on pre-pandemic levels last year amid predictions it may never fully recover, according to a report.
Overall, UK footfall for all destinations was down 14.2% in 2022 on pre-pandemic 2019, despite a slow but steady recovery, analysts Springboard said.
Footfall rose 10.8% between May and December across all retail destinations compared with the same months in 2021 – when all stores had re-opened after pandemic restrictions – despite the challenges posed by the cost-of-living crisis.
However hybrid working hit the high street, with weekday footfall remaining 18.2% down on 2019 levels throughout last year.
Springboard’s retail consumer survey, carried out each quarter, found an average of 55% of consumers worked at home for at least some days each week in 2022, with very little change in the extent of home working across the year.
Springboard predicted footfall would not return to pre-pandemic levels, settling at between 5% and 10% down on 2019 this year.
While footfall in retail destinations strengthened over the year, the importance of online spending diminished from a peak reached during the pandemic.
During “lockdown three” in February 2021, 65% clothes and footwear spending was carried out online, falling to 24.9% in December 2022.
Likewise, before Covid in January 2020 just 5.6% of food spending was online, which peaked at 13% in January 2021 and fell back to 8.5% in December 2022.
Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said hybrid working was now an established feature of the UK economy and would place downward pressure on the recovery of footfall to the 2019 level.
She said: “Whilst hybrid working and the ability of stores and destinations to adapt will be a key factor in determining their success, the fact is that, in the absence of Covid, footfall across UK destinations would have declined each year anyway.
“Over the decade that Springboard has been publishing its data, footfall declined by an average of 1.3% per year each year from 2009, and so in even the absence of Covid, footfall across UK retail destinations would now be around 4% lower than in 2009.
“Taking this into account, with all things being equal, footfall will not return to pre-pandemic footfall levels, and in 2023 Springboard anticipates that the gap from 2019 will settle at between 5% and 10%.”