Footfall in December was clearly impacted 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, retail expert Springboard reports.
This meant that the natural boost in shopper activity which typically occurs 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.
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 when it stood at -14.5% below 2019.
The greatest deterioration occurred in high streets, where the gap in footfall from the 2019 level widened to -22.2% in December from -15.8% in November. In shopping centres, the gap from the 2019 footfall level remained greater than in high streets at -24.1%. However, the deterioration from November when it was -22% below 2019 was more modest.
The bright spot of the month was in the fourth week (beginning 19th December) when the gap from 2019 narrowed to -13.8% across all UK retail destinations from -19.1% in the week before, as consumers made the most of the six available trading days in the week running up to Christmas Day on Saturday.
The most improvement occurred in retail parks, where footfall was +5.1% higher than in 2019, undoubtedly supported by shoppers visiting food stores to stock up on Christmas groceries. However, the result is partially distorted by the date offset of Christmas in 2019, when Christmas Day fell on Wednesday of the fourth week of the month leaving only three full trading days versus five trading days in 2021.
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.