Lockdown fatigue and pent-up demand 'set to bring shoppers out in force'

Shoppers on London Road North in Lowestoft ahead of the second lockdown

Lowestoft central is the only area which remains in double figures for number of positive coronavirus cases. - Credit: Mick Howes

High streets and shopping centres should see a huge surge in numbers once lockdown restrictions ease, retail analysts believe.

Springboard - which measures footfall across the UK's towns and cities - is expecting retail destinations to see a dramatic rise in shoppers of up to 47.9% when non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality reopens in England from April 12.

But even before the ban on non-essential shopping ends, East of England towns and cities got a 9.9% week-on-week boost in the week beginning Sunday, February 14, as shoppers start to return.

It followed a momentary footfall downturn when the region was blasted by Beast from the East 2 in the previous week. Unsurprisingly during lockdown footfall in the region's towns and cities was still down by 61.7% on the same time last year.

Across the UK, shopper numbers rose by 6.8% - making it the fifth week in a row footfall rose.

Despite ongoing lockdown restrictions, UK high streets were the biggest beneficiary with a 10.5% week-on-week rise - only slightly below the 11.1% rise in the same week last year when retail was trading normally.

Springboard described it as a "staggering" result, given that it preceded prime minister Boris Johnson's announcement on a roadmap out of lockdown on Monday, February 22. UK shopping centres saw a week-on-week rise of 4.5%, and retail parks rose marginally by 1.2%.

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In the east, high streets saw a 12.8% week-on-week rise in footfall - although that was still 64.9% down on last year's figure. Regional shoppers at retail parks rose 4.5% but were still down 42.5% on last year. Shopping centre footfall numbers also rose by 9.3% - but were 73.3% below last year's figure.

Last week central London saw one of the biggest rises in numbers with 23.6% more people.

Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said: “You could be fooled into thinking that last week was a normal half term week rather than in the eighth week of a national lockdown, as footfall continued to rise for the fifth consecutive week.

"With the magnitude of increase continuing, this provides further evidence of significant pent-up demand amongst shoppers to visit retail destinations and indication of the significant surge back to stores when non-essential retail reopens in the coming weeks/months.”

After April 12 and the lifting of some restrictions, high streets and shopping centres should see the largest rises in footfall of 59% and 46% respectively, say the analysts, while retail parks will see a growth of 26%.

It points to previous data which shows that the longer consumers are subject to restrictions, the greater the desire for freedom. Added to this, it thinks the UK vaccination programme will put many at ease, it believes.

"With social distancing measures set to be eased by June 21 with a return to near normality and a government target to have all adults vaccinated with a first dose by July 31, this will no doubt support footfall across all areas of the UK.

Coastal towns should see a footfall boost over the summer months as Brits opt for staycations and regional cities should also see a rise as office workers return to their workplaces.

“As we approach the 12-month mark since the start of the pandemic in the UK, lockdown fatigue is at its height and the increases in footfall over the last five weeks have indicated the pent up demand for a return to normality," said Ms Wehrle.

“By mid-April, consumers will be looking for sensory and social retail experiences, reconnecting with their favourite brands and purchasing new wardrobes for a summer of social events. We are anticipating a strong initial uplift in April that will continue to rise over the summer months as the economy reopens in the UK.”