Scale of East’s shopping revival takes retail experts by surprise

Ipswich high street swarming with people asshops, hairdressers and pubs re-opened

Ipswich high street was swarming with people as the shops, hairdressers and pubs re-opened on April 12 - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

East of England shoppers defied the experts as they fired up the retail recovery in the first week after lockdown, latest figures show.

As the non-essential retail lockdown ended on Monday, April 12, the week covering the period from the previous day to Saturday, April 18, saw a dramatic 89.5% rise in footfall in towns and cities across the region compared to the previous seven days, a survey by retail analysts Springboard shows.

Busy Gentleman's Walk in Norwich as Covid restrictions were eased

Busy Gentleman's Walk in Norwich as people are out and about enjoying the easing of the Covid restrictions - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

The increase was much higher than predicted by Springboard and above the national average of 87.8% — but there were big differences in how marked the recovery was across different retail destinations.

Retail parks in the east — which have been more buoyant through lockdown because they contain essential retail outlets which remained open — saw a 9.2% rise in footfall compared to the same week in pre-pandemic 2019 or 61.3% week-on-week. 

However — with the hospitality sector’s indoor venues still shut off under government coronavirus rules — footfall in the region’s shopping centres remained 30.3% down on 2019 while 135.6% up on the previous week. In the high streets it was 27.4% lower but 79.9% higher than the week before. The seven-day figures also take in one remaining day of lockdown. 

Overall, the east saw a 316% rise in shopper numbers compared to the same week in 2020 when England was still in the grip of its first pandemic lockdown.

Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said the overall UK footfall increase from the week before was nearly double her organisation’s own forecasts and showed consumers were still keen to pound the streets. Lockdown has seen a marked rise in internet shopping since the virus crisis began and there are predictions that trend will continue beyond it.

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“The first week of reopening delivered an outstanding performance for UK retail destinations and stores,” said Ms Wehrle. 

“These results provide concrete evidence of the desire of shoppers to return to bricks and mortar stores and destinations. The key issue for retail destinations will be whether this momentum can be sustained. 

“From our evidence of the last two lockdowns, we are expecting footfall to continue to increase over the next few weeks, albeit at a lesser rate. However, the reopening of indoor hospitality on May 17 will provide a further boost to retail destinations as many indoor venues are located in high streets and shopping centres.”

Across the UK, Monday, April 12 — the first day out of lockdown — delivered the greatest increase in footfall at 151.8%, but the week-on-week rise on each day was no lower than 69.7% on Tuesday, and rose to 116.9% on Saturday, said Springboard.