Omicron continues to bear down on East's high streets

A shopper on Norwich's high street

Across the East of England, festive shopper numbers between Christmas and New Year were down by a quarter on pre-pandemic levels - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Omicron weighed heavily on the East of England in the run-up to New Year 2022 as shops looked in vain for a big festive week uplift, figures show.

The region's retail outlets have seen footfall plummet since the start of the coronavirus crisis in 2020 - and in the week between Christmas 2021 and New Year it was still sitting 24.7% below the levels it was at during the pre-pandemic period in 2019, according to retail analysts Springboard.

It found the region took a slightly bigger footfall hit than the national average of 24.5% down on 2019 in the week beginning December 26. Boxing Day footfall in the East was 46.4% down compared to 2019 - although it was 95.6% higher than the same week in 2020 when stringent measures were in force under Tier 4 'stay at home' rules.

Week-on-week, footfall across all retail destination types in the East fell by 14.6% in the week from Boxing Day compared to the period up to Christmas. Nationally, the figure was 15% down compared to the previous week.

Norwich, Gentleman's walk was very busy with sales shoppers. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

Shoppers don their masks to join the post-Christmas sales in Norwich - Credit: Brittany Woodman

But Springboard said it did see a big uplift on New Year's Eve, most notably in central London, which saw a staggering week-on-week 54.8% rise in shopper numbers. However, the picture was patchy. City centres outside of London saw a slight drop of 0.8% on New Year's Eve compared to Christmas Eve. Historic town centres fared better with a 7.3% uplift - while market towns saw an 8.2% decline, Springboard figures revealed.

Week-on-week over the seven days all three retail destination types measured by Springboard saw double digit declines. UK high streets saw an 11.8% fall, while retail parks suffered a 17.5% week-on-week decline and shopping centres were hammered with a 19.2% drop in footfall.

However, the week-on-week gap narrowed as the week progressed, figures suggest, so that Friday - New Year's Eve -  high streets were 5.2% above Christmas Eve levels while across all retail venue types footfall was 6.4% down.

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Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said with the week beginning on Boxing Day and ending on New Year's Day, footfall was inevitably lower that the preceding week, which was the run-up to Christmas and ended on Christmas Day.

“Despite the well documented cautiousness of shoppers in the run up to and over Christmas this year, it appears that on New Year's Eve there was a shift in behaviour with footfall in high streets increasing from the week before (Christmas Eve)," she said.

Sales shoppers braving the rain in Ipswich town centre on Monday

Sales shoppers braving the rain in Ipswich town centre on Boxing Day - Credit: Ella Wilkinson/Archant

"Not only was this the only day last week when high street footfall was higher than the week before, but it was also in sharp contrast with New Year's Eve 2019 when high street footfall was lower on New Year's Eve than on Christmas Eve. The winners on New Year's Eve were Central London and historic town centres where footfall rose significantly from the week before, while declining in smaller local high streets."

But the comparison with 2019 continued to be unfavourable, she said, with a noticeable drop from two years ago.

"However, some of this is due to the date offset as the equivalent week in 2019 began on December 29 and ended on January 4 so missing the days immediately post-Christmas when footfall is at its lowest."