COVID-19: Sunny weather and lockdown easing give much-needed boost to retailers

19 April 2021, 10:01 | Updated: 19 April 2021, 11:41

An easing of lockdown restrictions and return of warmer weather drove a hefty increase in visits to high streets and shopping centres last week, according to newly-released figures.

Springboard, which measures footfall at shopping destinations across the UK, said there was an 83.7% hike last week compared to the previous one as so-called non-essential retail, outside dining space and beer gardens reopened in England.

Wales also saw an easing of COVID-19 restrictions last Monday - allowing businesses placed in winter hibernation an opportunity to begin a painstaking recovery boosted by early indications of strong pent up demand.

The latest figures showed that while all the home nations enjoyed growth last week, England led the way with an increase of more than 96% with Wales seeing a spurt of 74%.

Scotland and Northern Ireland lagged on 14% and 25% respectively.

Shopping centres and high streets saw the biggest leap.

But Springboard said that visits to UK retail destinations remained 25% below pre-pandemic levels amid a crisis that has accounted for some of its biggest names.

They include Debenhams and Sir Philip Green's Topshop empire, neither of which will trade as physical stores in future following their demise in the run-up to Christmas.

Retailers are desperate to see a recovery in trade after the sector shed 67,000 jobs last year and lockdowns cost £27bn in lost sales, according to industry estimates.

They will be heartened that people appear to be out spending despite the squeeze to incomes inflicted on millions - particularly the young.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: "The first week of reopening delivered an outstanding performance for UK retail destinations and stores, with an increase in footfall from the week before that was virtually double our forecast.

"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 17th May (for England) will provide a further boost to retail destinations as many indoor venues are located in high streets and shopping centres."