What a difference a day makes – whoever said “bricks and mortar retail is dead” needs to think again.

What a difference a day makes – whoever said “bricks and mortar retail is dead” needs to think again. After a month of a second lockdown and ongoing restrictions non-essential stores in England have opened to what can only be described as a huge fanfare from shoppers. By 12pm footfall across all UK retail destinations was +64.5% higher than on Wednesday last week and in England footfall was +85.2% higher. The extent of the uplift has virtually halved the annual decline in footfall recorded in November of -51.2% across the UK.

The greatest increases in activity have occurred in high streets and shopping centres; in England footfall in high streets has risen by an incredibe +80.4% and in shopping centres footfall is more than double that last Wednesday with a rise of +133.2%. We were expecting footfall to rise, but previous evidence gleaned from the reopening of non-essential retail in Wales led us to believe that it would be in the order of +45% from the week before; the fact that the increase is virtually double that forecast is indicative of “lockdown fatigue” and the desire of shoppers to visit stores and experience the Christmas shopping trip.

The increase in footfall in retail parks from last week has been less than in high streets and shopping centres, but due to the presence of food stores and garden centres they were starting from a higher base. Despite this, the +29.5% rise in activity today means that across the UK footfall in retail parks is only 3.1% lower than in 2019 (2.9% lower in England). The attractiveness of parks to shoppers reflects the fact that they can be accessed easily by car, they’re open air and the stores are large so social distancing is less problematic. The desire of shoppers for safety is reflected in the fact that smaller towns and high streets continue to see large increases in activity than larger cities; footfall in market towns across the UK has virtually doubled today from last Wednesday (+96.8%) whilst in regional cities it has risen by around a third (+32.5%). Despite the general desire to stay local, the lure of the West End of London has been hard to ignore by shoppers, and footfall is +70.5% higher today than last Wednesday.

These results deliver the first really positive news for retailers since Covid hit the UK, and finally provides retailers with some reason for optimism in the run up to Christmas.