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Rails strikes and cold weather hit pre-Christmas high street footfall hardest

Tom Bottomley
19 December 2022

The combination of continued rail strikes and freezing temperatures hit high streets the hardest last week, 11-17 December 2022, compared to the week before – falling -10.2%, with a decline of -1.8% from last year and a gap of -22.6% from the 2019 level.

Footfall in shopping centres and retail parks rose 0.8% and 1.6% respectively last week compared to the week before, according to the latest data from retail experts Springboard.

However, due to the strong performance of retail parks during Covid, last week footfall was -1.8% lower in retail parks than in 2021 and -9.8% lower than in 2019.  In shopping centres, footfall was 1.8% higher than last year, but like high streets footfall was significantly below the 2019 level (-24.8%).

During the rail strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, footfall in high streets dropped by an average of -15.7% from the week before versus a rise of +1.3% in retail parks and -2.7% in shopping centres.

From Thursday to Saturday there was an average drop in footfall from the week before of -6.8% in high streets versus rises of +4.2% in retail parks and +3.2% in shopping centres.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, footfall in Central London was -31% lower than the week before, -20.7% across large cities outside the capital and -18.7% in historic towns.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, said: “Last week - the week prior to Christmas - should have been a peak trading week for retail destinations and stores, with footfall expected to rise from the week before as Christmas shopping moves towards its zenith. Instead, footfall across UK retail destinations took a tumble last week. Whilst the cold weather prevailed, which would undoubtedly have had some impact, the contrast with the results for the week before clearly demonstrate that it was the rail strikes that were the key impact on footfall.

“By far the hardest hit of the three key destination types were high streets, which lost both shoppers who couldn’t reach towns and cities by rail, but also employees who chose to work at home last week. Some of this footfall migrated to retail parks and shopping centres, with both recording rises from the week before (albeit modest) versus a significant drop in footfall in high streets.  Retail parks fared the best of all three destination types, supported by the fact they can be easily accessed by car with the bonus of free car parking.

“Across the range of towns and cities Central London, with its proportionately greater reliance on public transport and a significant working population, was by far the hardest hit.  It was followed by historic towns, where narrow roads would have resulted in significant congestion deterring some visitors who weren't able to arrive by rail.  It was evident that many shoppers stayed local last week, with only a modest drop in footfall in market towns.”

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