London's Oxford Street saw major revival over festive period
The festive shopping season in the UK saw a noticeable revival of consumers visiting physical stores as they discovered the joys of shopping face-to-face. And that seems to have benefited London's Oxford Street.
While high streets overall were challenged, the thoroughfare that was once the busiest shopping street in Europe bounced back. It had suffered badly in the wake of the pandemic, but a new study shows that consumers flocked there in December, making it the only major UK high street to see a footfall rise last month, up 20% from November.
That's according to consulting firm RSM, which has analysed the latest data from Datscha that tracks key high streets. It said overall footfall to the locations tracked dropped by 30% last month with the most significant falls being in Leeds (down 55%), Nottingham (down 49%), and Glasgow (down 48%).
Overall UK football in December was almost half of pre-pandemic levels based on the narrow selection of locations being tracked and was also down on the same period in 2021 by as much as 25%.
Those numbers are different from other reports that have been coming in, although variations in the percentages between studies will depend on the particular locations looked at.
But it's still particularly interesting that Oxford Street did so well out of all the prominent high streets featured.
Since the pandemic began, the street has struggled as some big-name tenants went into administration and vacated their flagship stores, while others reassessed their businesses and decided that an expensive Oxford Street location wasn't necessary. An additional problem has been the proliferation of tacky candy stores moving into some of the vacated properties, while redevelopment plans for other properties (such as former department stores) have also meant big gaps on the street.
Business decisions to vacate Oxford Street flagships were taken, partly because of the low footfall from UK shoppers, but also because of the lack of tourists that had been the lifeblood of the West End pre-pandemic. Those tourist flows were dented by the pandemic, of course, but were also seriously hit by the withdrawal of the VAT-free shopping perk in early 2021. This means international shopping tourists can no longer claim back the VAT on purchases they’ve made during their trip at the airport.
Jacqui Baker, partner and head of retail at RSM UK and chair of ICAEW’s Retail Advisory Group, said: “London might have been slower in getting back up on its feet than other cities post-lockdown, but it came back with a vengeance in December, with a positive uptick in footfall whilst all other major UK cities saw a decrease. The combination of more workers returning to the office, shopping in preparation for the party season and socialising gave footfall on the capital’s high street a welcome boost.
“However, unfortunately for retailers, the industrial strikes throughout December will have dampened people’s spirits to be able to get out and about across many other UK cities, as demonstrated by the mostly bleak picture for footfall. Trading time for retailers in December is already squeezed due to the Christmas holidays, and consumers tended to focus on socialising rather than visiting the high street.
“Apart from in London, December’s footfall figures are unlikely to have filled retailers with confidence, as they look ahead to a nail-biting first quarter in 2023. There have been some winners on the high street in the festive period and the hope is the recent drops in energy prices continue, easing the cost-of-living crisis later on in the year and in turn, boosting consumer confidence, meaning there’s still everything to play for in the sector.”
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