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Post-pandemic UK retail recovery “slow but steady” says 2022 report

Tom Bottomley
25 January 2023

The annual report from retail analysts Springboard has revealed a steady post-pandemic recovery for UK retail destinations in 2022, though the UK footfall gap “remained significant” compared to pre-pandemic 2019, down 14.2% in 2022.

However, between May to December 2022 footfall was up 10.8% across all retail destinations compared to 2021 (the UK was still in lockdown from January to April 2021), despite new challenges created by the cost-of-living crisis.

Other key findings in the report include:

  • Online spending diminished, as the online share of clothes and footwear spending fell from a pandemic peak of 65% (during Lockdown 3 in February 2021) to just 24.9% in December 2022.
  • Consumer localism slowed down the retail recovery in Central London, where footfall was -17.8% down on 2019 figures between May to December 2022.
  • Hybrid working hit high streets, as weekday high street footfall in 2022 remained at -18.2% below 2019 levels.
  • Springboard’s Retail Consumer Survey (carried out each quarter) identified in 2022 an average of 55% of consumers worked at home for at least some days each week, with very little change in the extent of home working across the year.
  • Resilient retail parks benefited from rail strikes and pandemic spending patterns, as 2022 footfall at UK retail parks was just -3.7% below 2019 levels.
  • Springboard predicts footfall will not return to pre-pandemic footfall levels, and in 2023 the gap from 2019 will settle at between -5% and -10%.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, said: “The question on everyone’s lips now that we are firmly in the midst of the pandemic recovery period, is what are the trends that are going to be prevalent during 2023? Unbeknown at the time of the pandemic was the cost-of-living crisis and resulting increase in inflation that would await consumers and impact on spending during the latter part of 2022, which will continue through to 2023 and most likely beyond.

“Inevitably, this will act as a constraint to the number of trips made to retail destinations as household budgets come under increasing strain. Alongside this, however, is the positive trend for the desire of shoppers to return to shopping in store, evident from the reduction in the significance of online spending and the steady recovery in footfall towards the 2019 level.

“At the same time, however, hybrid working is now an established feature of the UK economy and will act as a further downward pressure on the recovery of footfall to the 2019 level. Whilst hybrid working and the ability of stores and destinations to adapt will be a key factor in determining their success, the fact is that in the absence of COVID footfall across UK destinations would have declined each year anyway.

“Over the decade that Springboard has been publishing its data, footfall declined by an average of -1.3% per year each year from 2009, and so, even in the absence of COVID, footfall across UK retail destinations would now be circa -4% lower than in 2009. Taking this into account, with all things being equal footfall will not return to pre-pandemic footfall levels, and in 2023 Springboard anticipates that the gap from 2019 will settle at between -5% and -10%.”

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