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Footfall jumps to near pre-Omicron levels in March but inflation dampens outlook

Tom Bottomley
07 April 2022

UK footfall grew 5.4% in March – covering the four weeks from 27 February – 2 April 2022 - compared to the month before, almost returning to the levels recorded in November 2021 before the Omicron variant of Covid gathered momentum.

However, inflation combined with rising energy and fuel prices are set to hit consumers’ disposable income.

Footfall in March was -15.3% below pre-pandemic 2019, rising from -20.7% in February 2022, and almost at the level of November 2021 of -14.5% - prior to the increase in Omicron infections, according to the latest data from retail experts Springboard.

March footfall declined from 2019 by -17.4% in high streets, -21.3% in shopping centres and -4.2% in retail parks. The rise in footfall was particularly significant in high streets, rising from -26.2% in February 2022 (compared to February 2019).

The longer-term challenge for physical retail destinations is hybrid home/office working that now appears to have become widely adopted, which is constraining the recovery of footfall, and will continue to do so. Additionally, a reduction in disposable income will curtail retail spending over the coming months, “exacerbated by the demand from consumers for summer holidays”.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, said: “Despite the strong uplift in footfall in March, this is likely to be the calm before the storm, only offering some short-term good news for retailers. With the substantial increase in energy and fuel prices, consumers are aware that increased costs are on the horizon but have not fully hit and so are already being relatively cautious, and the concomitant rise in inflation that is forecast over the forthcoming months will put household budgets under increasing pressure.

“Inevitably this will mean less disposable income and so some retail spending will be curtailed, particularly as we enter the summer period when many consumers will be looking to reserve budget to spend on much longed for summer holidays.

“Alongside price inflation, the longer-term challenge for physical retail destinations is hybrid home/office working that now appears to have become widely adopted. With many employees opting to work at home for at least part of the week, the recovery in footfall – particularly in large city centres – has been constrained and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

“At the same time, however, it should be recognised that not all of the drop in footfall is due to Covid; even prior to the pandemic Springboard’s data had shown an average drop in footfall of around -1.5% per annum for the past decade as consumers migrated some of their spending online. The net Covid impact on footfall to date, is therefore circa -12%.”

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