Shoppers shied away from UK high streets and shopping centres in the last weekend before Christmas, with the number of visitors down 2.6% on the previous week.
Central London and other city centres were hit particularly hard by the decline in visitors on the peak shopping weekend of the year, according to the latest data from the shopper counting service Springboard, as analysts said there was “growing nervousness” among consumers caused by the rapid rise in Omicron cases.
Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s insights director, said a rise in the number of shoppers out and about at the beginning of last week had “dwindled with each day that passed”. Shopper numbers across the UK fell on Sunday compared with the same day in the previous week, an almost unheard-of pattern at a time of year when shoppers are usually flocking to high streets in preparation for the festivities.
Overall, footfall across UK retail destinations rose by 5.5% from the week before but was 19% lower than the same week in 2019.
“The nervousness of shoppers about making in-person shopping visits inevitably meant that large city centres lost out to smaller high streets, particularly over the weekend, when footfall declined from the week before in central London and large cities outside of the capital while rising in market towns,” she said.
The New West End Company, which represents hundreds of businesses operating on Oxford Street and other central London shopping streets, said visitor numbers over the weekend were down 5% on the previous week.
Its chief executive, Jace Tyrrell, called on the government to “provide urgent and swift financial support” such as 100% business rates relief for the first quarter of 2022 and grants to prevent business closures.
“West End retail and hospitality businesses will have been disappointed with the turnout on the critical final weekend of Christmas trading, with footfall down by 17% from pre-pandemic levels. With less than five days to go until Christmas Day and the probabilities of a circuit-breaker lockdown increasingly on the horizon, the retail and leisure sector is now facing a huge amount of financial uncertainty when it should be enjoying a much-needed shot in the arm,” he said.