Hopes for a last-minute Christmas boost for UK retail destinations were dampened by the rise of Omicron, working from home and consumer nervousness about missing out on festivities, footfall figures confirm.
Footfall across all UK retail destinations in December was 18.6% below the 2019 level, the worst result since August and a significant drop off from November which fell 14.5% below 2019, Springboard data shows.
Footfall was clearly affected by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and the introduction of Plan B guidance by the Government from the third week of the month, Springboard said.
This meant that the usual increase in shoppers in the run-up to Christmas did not materialise, due to a blend of consumer nervousness around the rapid rise in infections and the risk of missing out on Christmas, households isolating due to infection and the re-introduction of working from home.
The greatest fall was on the high street, where the gap in footfall from the 2019 level widened to a drop of 22.2% from 15.8% in November.
In shopping centres, visitor numbers were 24.1% lower than 2019 but the deterioration from November, when it was 22% lower, was more modest.
The bright spot of the month was in the fourth week, beginning December 19, when the fall from 2019 narrowed to 13.8% lower across all UK retail destinations from 19.1% down in the week before.
However, the result was partially distorted by Christmas Day falling on a Wednesday in 2019, leaving only three full trading days versus five trading days in 2021.
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: “Footfall was impacted by an increase in consumer nervousness around the rapid rise in infections and the risk of missing out on Christmas, households isolating due to infection and the re-introduction of working from home
“The biggest challenge for the retail sector in the weeks to come will be the ongoing working from home guidance that suppresses footfall, combined with increasing staff shortages due to isolation and the great return of goods purchased over the Christmas period.”