UK shoppers flock back to the stores as bumper retail weekend looms

Sales surge but footfall is still down markedly from pre-Covid pandemic level

Shoppers are expected to flood to high streets and shopping centres in England and Wales this weekend after a bumper week, particularly for clothing and homewares sales, as people make the most of the reopening of non-essential stores.

Visitors to high streets, retail parks and shopping malls rose by 90% from Monday to Thursday compared with the same days in the previous week, thanks to the reopening of non-essential stores as well as hospitality venues, according to the latest data from analysts at Springboard. However, numbers were still just over a quarter below those seen over the same week in 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Central London experienced a particular surge in shoppers, up 124% week on week, but visitors were still nearly two-thirds down on 2019 as the capital continues to suffer from a dearth of commuters and tourists.

Market towns, shopping centres and coastal towns all fared better than city centres as families enjoyed local outings during chilly weather for the second week of school Easter holidays in many parts of the country.

Oxford Street shoppers in central London.
Oxford Street shoppers in central London. Photograph: David Cliff/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Springboard said the uplift in footfall was twice that it had forecast and it expected an even greater rise this weekend. “For some people who have been working all week, it will be their first opportunity to visit stores and destinations. Additionally many schools go back on Monday, so parents will be taking children out to buy school supplies and clothes,” a spokesperson said.

Total store sales last week were up more than tenfold, compared with the same week last year when the UK was at the height of the first lockdown to control the coronavirus pandemic, according to advisory firm BDO’s analysis of about 80 medium-sized retailers’ trading figures. But BDO found that online sales increased by more than 49%, indicating that the switch to online shopping has not faded.

Homewares recorded the biggest jump in sales – more than 50 times that of a year before, according to BDO – as it was finally possible to try out a sofa or mattress, while fashion sales were up just over 82% year on year as online sales continued to increase and in-store sales surged.

Lloyds Bank said spending on clothing via its debit cards was up 116% Monday to Thursday compared with the same days in the previous week. It said more than two-thirds (68%) of spending was in stores as people flocked back to high streets. By contrast, spending in restaurants and pubs was up by 38%, with many outlets forced to remain closed because they lacked sufficient outside space.

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Gabby Collins, the payments director at Lloyds Bank, said: “Pent-up demand was released onto high streets, with in-person spending soaring as people hit the shops.

“It’s a really encouraging sign of consumer confidence but we will wait to see how strongly this initial demand will be sustained over the coming weeks.”

It wasn’t just about clothes, pubs and sofas. Entertainment and music chain HMV recorded more than double the number of visitors to its stores this week compared with the numbers who turned up in the week after the first lockdown ended in June last year.

Owner Doug Putman said: “This was by far our strongest post-lockdown return, and it signals not only that the British public feels confident in the Covid-secure measures that retailers including HMV have put in place, but also that people are excited to get out and see what the high street has to offer.”


Sarah Butler

The GuardianTramp

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