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Omicron variant sees decline in "Back to the Office" in Central London despite overall footfall up

Tom Bottomley
07 December 2021

Fears over the spread of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 saw a -2% decline in footfall in Central London’s "Back to the Office Benchmark" – data compiled by retail experts Springboard which comprises only those areas in close proximity to offices –  last week (28 November – 4 December) compared to the week before.

Footfall was also down -3.8% in large regional cities outside of the capital last week, though footfall was up +1% in small market towns, suggesting more people shopped locally as opposed to venturing further afield.

Despite that, footfall across all Central London rose by +0.5% last week, as shoppers ramped up Christmas shopping visits to the capital perhaps spurred by the potential threat of further restrictions being put in place by the government, as face coverings are once again compulsory in shops and on public transport in England.

Overall footfall across all UK retail destinations rose by 0.7% last week, largely driven by footfall in shopping centres, which increased by 2.3%, and in retail parks by +1.3%. However, footfall in UK high streets was down -0.4% compared to the previous week.

Footfall over the week was impacted by a decline on Friday 3 December of -5% overall, and by -10.3% in shopping centres, which were hit by a strong rise on Black Friday in the previous week.

The gap in overall footfall from the 2019 level stood at -17.4% last week, but footfall was +43% higher than in 2020.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, commented: “Footfall in UK retail destinations last week was inevitably more subdued last week than the previous week which had included Black Friday. Footfall rose marginally, and it was wholly driven by uplifts in activity in retail parks and shopping centres, while there was a modest decline in high streets. The strong comparison of Black Friday in the week before meant the drop in footfall on Friday was significant enough to halve the uplift in footfall over the seven day period.

Last week also provided the first evidence of an early impact on footfall of the Omicron variant. Springboard’s ‘Central London Back to the Office Benchmark’ (comprising only those areas in close proximity to offices) declined last week from the week before, while footfall across Central London as a whole - which is clearly being supported by the Christmas trading period – increased, rising by even more in those areas with a predominance of retail stores.

“The picture is not as positive in large city centres outside of the capital where footfall dropped by nearly double the rate of decline in the Back to the Office Benchmark.  This points to the fact that while Central London is being supported by its retail and leisure offer in the run up to Christmas

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