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Apr 12, 2021
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Shoppers in England and Wales flock to physical stores on reopening day

Apr 12, 2021

They’re back! Shoppers were out in full force up and down the high streets and shopping centres of England and Wales for the grand reopening of non-essential retail on Monday (12 April).

Business as usual... London's Oxford Street at 11am - Photo: Nigel Taylor

Reopening day in large parts of the UK appears to have been a major success with widespread reports of queues and happy shoppers. 

But it’s also important to note that while footfall surged compared to last week and this time last year, compared with April 12 2019, it was still devastatingly low.

By 3pm, consumers had flocked to high streets in their droves, with footfall up 143% week-on-week across the country. Shopping centres did even better, up 176% on a year ago. And retail parks? They were actually down 5.6%, appearing to have had their moments in the sun during lockdowns.

That meant footfall on Monday across all UK destinations leapt 116.3% by mid-afternoon as chilly spring weather (maximum 9 degrees in London and snow showers further north) failed to deter pent-up demand to shop physically.

It was no surprise that Central London was a key destination with footfall up 139.7% on a week ago. Oxford Street almost resembled the pre-pandemic destination Londoners were used to.

Queues formed  outside the usual locations: Primark, and to a lesser extend, JD Sports, Zara, H&M, (for both clothing and interiors) and Urban Outfitters, although shoppers didn’t have to wait too long to gain entry to these most popular of destinations.

But those all-important international tourists were missing, of course.

A rough count of passersby showed every one in three shoppers were carrying fashion purchases and at least one in 10 was laden down with multiple purchases from different stores.

Photo: Nigel Taylor

But there were also the Oxford Street ‘scars’ on a sunny, busy day with the boarded up remnants of Debenhams and Topshop, a reminder of retail’s dark days.

Outside of London, the UK’s market towns actually took top prize for the day’s highest footfall, up 207% week-on-week. Regional cities (excluding London) saw footfall jump161.5%.

Destinations across England were up a collective 127.9%. By region, they were all recording treble digit percentage rises: the East Midlands up 162%; the North and Yorkshire 159.8% ahead; and the South East up 120%. 

Elsewhere, Welsh footfall jumped 156.8%, Northern Ireland was 71% ahead, but Scotland was actually down 0.2% as its non-essential stores stay closed for a little while longer.

However, looking beyond the weekly comparisons, the overall picture was worse. While year-on-year comparisons with the height of the first lockdown flatter today’s figures, compared to April 2019, Central London footfall was down 62.5%. Regional cities were down 30.8%, historic towns dipped 31.5% and market downs also fell 14.3%.

It all highlights just how much work retailers still have to do to persuade shoppers back into the physical stores... and keep them coming back.

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