Bleak Christmas for high street after drastic drop in footfall

Kalila Sangster
·3-min read
Closed shops and quiet streets on Oxford Street in central London, as the UK enters a new national lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of Coronavirus. Picture date: Wednesday 6th January, 2021. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics
Total year on year shopper footfall for 2020 fell by 43.4%. Photo: Matt Crossick/Empics

Footfall on UK High Streets fell by 49.5% year on year over the Christmas period, according to new data from BRC-ShopperTrak.

This was the worst performing location type for the fifth consecutive month as Brits avoided the high street due to coronavirus fears and social distancing restrictions.

The data covered the five weeks from 29 November 2020 to 2 January 2021.

Retail parks saw footfall decrease by 17.3% year on year, while visits to shopping centres declined by 47.3% year on year. This was just over 24 percentage points down compared with October and just below the 12-month average decline of 47.4%.

Year on year UK Footfall declined by 46.1% in December, a 19.3 percentage point improvement from November when England was under a one-month lockdown.

Total year on year shopper footfall for 2020 fell by 43.4%.

Helen Dickinson, chief-executive of British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “After an encouraging start to the month Christmas shopper numbers dwindled as December progressed, due in large part to the creation of Tier 4 in England and increased restrictions elsewhere in the UK.

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“High streets and shopping centres continued to see the most substantial decline in shoppers, as their ‘non-essential’ tenants were forced to close their doors during the weeks leading up to and following Christmas.”

Wales saw shopper footfall drop by 52.3%, while footfall fell by 50.2% in Scotland. Northern Ireland saw the shallowest footfall decline of all regions, dropping by 47.2%.

In England London and the South East were hardest hit, with footfall dropping by over four-fifths in the final week, according to Dickinson.

“December was a month of two halves, however – before footfall fell away as UK consumers faced the prospect of tougher restrictions, there was an initial recovery in retail footfall in the first two weeks of December, with shopper counts boosted by pent-up demand from November’s lockdown and shoppers’ get-ahead gift buying,” said Andy Sumpter, retail consultant – EMEA of ShopperTrak.

“While this soon plummeted in the second half of the month, it at least served to save some valuable Christmas trade.”

Dickinson warned: “Now that all parts of the UK are effectively in lockdown and with social distancing measures expected to continue well into the New Year, ‘non-essential’ stores will be unable to trade their way back to recovery.

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“A third lockdown will be one too many for some businesses. Rent bills continue to weigh heavily and the threat of a return to full business rates liability in April still looms.”

The BRC is calling on the government to “reassure those businesses hardest hit by the pandemic that they will receive vital financial support in the form of an extension to the coronavirus business rates relief.”

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