UK footfall continues to recover, but still not at 2019 levels
After rising retail footfall was seen during the long Easter weekend, visitor traffic to British stores stayed fairly buoyant in the week up to April 24 and was down only 12.8% compared to 2019 in the non-food sector.
Given how online shopping has accelerated in the past few years and how tourism is still muted compared to the pre-pandemic period, that's not a bad figure and suggests that the recovery and the return to ‘normality’ are well underway.
The figures comes from the Ipsos Retail Traffic Index (RTI) that measures people who actually go into individual stores rather than those who are just in the general area.
But there are still signs that things aren't quite back to normal with towns continuing to outperform city centres by as much as 2.8 percentage points.
Ipsos said that as well as the 12.8% drop compared to the same week in 2019, against the previous week this year, retail footfall rose as much as 14.3%.
Cities were down 12.3% compared to 2019 and up 11.8% week on week, while towns were down 9.5% and up 15.5% on those same two measures.
The index also showed that high streets were down 13.8% compared to 2019 and up 10% on the week, while retail parks were down 7.1% and up 13.9%, and shopping centres were down 14.4% and up 16.3%.
The best-performing region was Northern England where store visits were down by 10.6% against 2019, while in London and the Southeast the figure was an 11.7% drop, which isn't bad given that it also came with a 15.5% increase week on week.
Scotland/Northern Ireland and the Midlands appear to be struggling more however compared to three years ago, with the former down 14.8% and the Midlands down 15.5%.
The big question is what it will take to get retail traffic beating 2019's figures. As mentioned, online has expanded fast in the subsequent three years so getting back to the 2019 level will be something of a challenge. However, the continuing return of workers to their offices (even if only on a part-time basis) and the eventual return of tourists could tip the scales.
But that also raises another question of whether tourists will be happy to return to the UK in large numbers given the changes that have been made to the tax-free shopping regime in recent years. With the ability to reclaim their 20% VAT at the airport now a distant memory, it may be a struggle for the UK to attract shopping tourists in the large numbers that it used to see.
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