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Workers returning to offices sees high street weekday footfall outpace weekend recovery

Lauretta Roberts
02 February 2023

Across all UK retail destinations footfall was up 10.7% year on year in January 2023 compared to +9.9% in December 2022 and, as more workers return to the office, footfall in high streets was up 17.2% on weekdays compared to +10.3% at weekends.

Covering the four weeks from 1-28 January 2023, footfall rose by 12.4% on weekdays in shopping centres, but only +4.8% in shopping centres at the weekend compared to January 2022, according to the latest data from retail analysts Springboard.

Other key findings include:

  • The gap in footfall from 2019 widened in January 2023 to -12.3% from -10.9% in December; -15.8% in high streets, -16.2% in shopping centres and -0.7% in retail parks.
  • Footfall declined in the first week of January by -3.3% from the week before, but rose in each of the three subsequent weeks, averaging +2.2% with an average week on week increase in high streets from the second to the fourth week of January of +3.8%.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at MRI Springboard, said: “The footfall results in January give a cause for optimism for retailers and retail destinations in the face of the current challenging economic climate, and strongly suggest that the new year represented a new start for many employees.

“The annual rise in footfall across UK retail destinations of +10.7% in January 2023 was greater than the annual uplift of +9.9% recorded in December 2022 and was the largest annual increase since July 2022.

“This result is particularly encouraging given the rail strikes that occurred in the first week of the month, when many employees would have planned to return to their offices, and which undoubtedly contributed to a drop in footfall of -3.3% from the week before.

“However, footfall rose in each of the three subsequent weeks, averaging +2.2%, with a particularly strong performance in high streets where there was an average week on week increase from the second to the fourth week of January of +3.8%.

“The move of employees back into offices in January was clearly demonstrated by a greater annual rise in weekday footfall than weekend footfall in both high streets and shopping centres. With many shopping centres located in high streets, it is not surprising that when consumers head back into offices – most of which are in town centres - it drives up both high street and shopping centre footfall.

“This evidence reflects the efforts made by many businesses to encourage their employees back into the office following the Christmas break, but it also demonstrates the adverse impact on retail and hospitality businesses when employees opt to work from home during rail strikes. We know that during the strikes in December footfall – particularly high street footfall – was severely impacted on the days of the strikes, but the full impact on economic performance was mitigated by the festive period providing an added incentive for consumers to divert their trips to shopping centres and retail parks.

“With the festive period fully behind us, and the cost-of-living crisis hitting households hard, when hurdles to spending such as the rail strike are placed in the way, it is likely that many consumers will abandon shopping trips and rein in their spending instead, hindering economic recovery.”

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