Retail stores have lost £30bn ($41bn) in foregone sales over three lockdowns, with footfall severely hit, but are hopeful that the gradual reopening of the economy will result in a spending boom by consumers.
As per prime minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap to ease restrictions, retailers and outdoor hospitality venues may reopen from 12 April in England
“It is essential they are able to trade effectively from 12 April, and remain open,” said Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
“Savings have been building up over lockdown, and the economic recovery relies on retailers being able to unlock the pent-up demand in the economy. Government should do all it can to support consumer confidence both ahead of, and during opening,” she said.
The latest BRC-Sensormatic IQ data has shown that 2020 was a turbulent year in which “much of retail bounced between being open and closed, impacting footfall significantly.”
However, overall footfall saw a slight improvement when compared with three-month averages.
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The report compared all 2021 figures with 2019, before the pandemic hit. This means its 2021 figures are year-on-two-years, rather than year-on-year.
It found that total UK footfall decreased by 68.7% in March 2021, compared with March 2019, with a 4.9 percentage point improvement from February 2021. This was above the three-month average decline of 72.3%.
Footfall on high streets declined by 64.6%, which compares favourably against the three-month average decline of 67.9%.
Retail parks saw footfall decrease by 36.8%, marginally above the three-month average decline of 38.8%, and shopping centre footfall declined by 73.2%, which compared favourably against the three-month average decline of 76.2%.
Northern Ireland again saw the shallowest footfall decline of all regions at 56.4%, followed by Scotland at 66.3% and England at 68.7%. Wales saw the deepest decline at 71.2%.
“While non-essential stores remained closed, we saw an incremental improvement in March footfall against February’s shopper counts, fuelled by growing consumer confidence, the promise of greater freedom to come and the relaxation of the stay at home guidance," said Andy Sumpter, retail consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, which provides retail systems.
“But, the real test comes as retail reopens later this month – and whether indeed that reopening is, as hoped, irreversible," he said.
"Retailers will be hoping for stability and, once again, will be counting on the continued support of shoppers if any sort of bounce back is to be sustained. Having invested heavily to ensure their stores remain as safe as possible for shoppers to return, the onus is now on the consumer to vote with their feet and ‘use or lose’ the shops they previously frequented," he added.
The majority of UK businesses support the government's pace of easing of lockdown restrictions. Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking research found that two-thirds of businesses are ready to operate at close to full capacity when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted on 12 April.
Meanwhile, business chiefs have urged the government not to waste time on solidifying plans for a COVID-19 vaccine passport, following confirmation that they could be a possibility for reopening UK economy.
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