Growing lockdown fatigue lures more of region’s shoppers onto high streets

The Cornhill in Ipswich during the third national lockdown

East of England high streets saw an 18.1% rise in shopper numbers in February compared to January - despite lockdown rules still being in place - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

East of England shoppers started to return to high streets and other retail destinations in February — despite no change in lockdown rules from the previous month, figures show.

Month-on-month, footfall crept up by 15.8% across all shopping destinations in the region.

High streets got the biggest lift with an 18.1% lift compared to January, retail analysts Springboard said.

The region’s retail parks saw an 11.6% uplift and shopping centres saw footfall rise by 15% on the previous month. That was a despite a momentary slide in shopper numbers from February 7 to 13, when Beast from the East 2 struck and dumped thick snow across East Anglia.

The growth was “clear evidence of a growing lockdown fatigue”, said Springboard, which is predicting a “significant” UK-wide boost of 47.9% in shopper numbers in the first week of reopening of non-essential shops from April 12.

But the analyst warned that store-based retailers are a long way from being out of the woods even then — with dramatic year-on-year declines to reverse.

And last year’s experience suggests that shoppers may not return in the same pre-Covid numbers.

Unsurprisingly given coronavirus restrictions, year-on-year, February numbers were down by -60.2% overall in the east.

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High streets and shopping centres have borne the brunt of the footfall decline, with a 64.1% and a 72.3% fall respectively.

Retail park footfall was down by 38.7% compared to February 2020.

But across the UK, the overall level of footfall in retail destinations is still only 39% of that in 2020 — and when footfall peaked in August 2020 after reopening in June, it still remained 25% below the level in the year before, Springboard pointed out. 

Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle said: “This indicates that retailers will have a significant amount of ground to make up to recover to anywhere near pre-Covid levels. 

“Despite the continuation of the lockdown and no relaxation in restrictions, footfall in UK retail destinations in February rose by +16% from January 2021, the largest month on month increase for February since Springboard’s footfall data became available in 2009.

"This result is an indicator of the increased activity, with visits to retail destinations rising steadily week on week in February."

There was “clear evidence” of a growing lockdown fatigue, with shoppers becoming increasingly keen to visit bricks and mortar destinations as a leisure activity, despite non-essential stores remaining closed until April 2021, she said. 

But she warned: “Even with increased consumer confidence generated by the success of the vaccine programme, retailers will have a significant amount of ground to make up if they are to recover to anywhere near pre-Covid levels.”

This reinforced the need for the High Street Restart Grants to support retailers announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in his budget, she said.

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