UK footfall ahead of major European economies as workers head back to the office
Storm Eunice failed to dampen consumer spirits in February as workers’ steady return to the office set tills ringing across the UK. UK footfall led the major European economies last month as the return to the office increased shopper numbers in many towns and city centres.
The promising start to the month was briefly dampened by Storm Eunice, before bouncing back in the final week of February to its highest level since the pandemic began.
Overall, the major cities enjoyed the biggest improvements, particularly London, Manchester and Birmingham, following the easing of Covid restrictions in England.
Total UK footfall was down 14.9% in February on two years previously, a 2.2 percentage point improvement from January and better than the three-month average decline of 17.2%, according to British Retail Consortium (BRC)-Sensormatic IQ data.
This was ahead of Spain (down 16.4% on February 2020), France (down 20.3%), Italy (down 29.1%) and Germany (down 42.6%).
Footfall on high streets was down 19.4% on two years ago but 4.8 percentage points better than last month’s rate, and an improvement on the three-month average decline of 22.4%.
Retail parks saw footfall decrease by 10.2% which was 2.8 percentage points better than last month’s rate, while shopping centre footfall fell by 35.2% but was 2.3 percentage points better.
England saw the shallowest footfall decline of all regions, down 14.4%, followed by Northern Ireland (15.5%) and Wales (17.1%). Scotland saw the steepest decline (17.5%).
British Retail Consortium CEO Helen Dickinson said: “Retailers large and small will welcome the return of customers to their stores – a sign their innovation and investment in their physical and digital offerings is working.
“However, challenges remain. Consumer confidence has been greatly impacted by rising inflation, while the return of hospitality and tourism will create additional competition. Retailers will need to continue the momentum to keep consumers engaged.”
Separate figures show the retail sector continued its successful start to 2022 by recording its 12th consecutive month of positive like-for-like sales.
Total combined in-store and online sales increased by 49.6% in February from a base drop of 3.1% for the same time last year, when the country was in full lockdown, according to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST).
Fashion saw the biggest growth, with total sales increasing by 68.1%, while lifestyle sector sales were up 59.9%.
Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “As we expected, February has seen strong like-for-like sales for retailers.
“The cost-of-living crisis, although building momentum, is yet to fully impact consumers. Increases in energy prices and National Insurance won’t take effect until April. This may be the point at which the strong discretionary spending we’ve seen over recent months starts to subside.”