High street experts were pleasantly surprised at the robustness of retail footfall last month, but have warned the cost of living crunch may soon deter shoppers.
Footfall strengthened a little in February over the month as a whole, to -20.7 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, from -20.8 per cent in January, according to retail experts at Springboard. There was a 9.1 per cent uplift compared to January, which was the largest single monthly boost since June 2021.
This was despite extreme stormy weather battering the country at the end of the month with Brits warned to stay at home.
Had extreme weather conditions not discouraged shoppers in the third week of the month, it was likely that the overall result for the month would have been around -18 per cent below 2019.
Footfall was down on pre-pandemic levels by -26.2 per cent in high streets, -24.1 per cent in shopping centres and -5.3 per cent in retail parks.
Office workers’ gradual return to central London saw footfall down 31.9 per cent below the 2019 level, Springboard’s retail analysis found.
Last month marked a “sweet spot” in the return of shoppers to retail destinations, with consumer confidence soaring after Covid restrictions were scrapped.
Measures to be ditched this year include a government reccomendation to work from home where possible, mask rules for public transport and shops, and testing rules for international travel to the UK.
However, retail voices have warned that a spike in energy, fuel and grocery bills could dampen retail’s recovery.
Research from Ipsos yesterday revealed that many shoppers were already changing their behaviour in a bid to cut down on costs, with some switching supermarkets and holding off on non-essential grocery purchases.
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director for Springboard, said the February uplift was a reversal of historic trends where February footfall worsened from January.
The figures offered “a source of optimism for retailers in what remains a retail landscape that is impacted to some degree by Covid,” she added.
A return of office workers has been a “steady trickle rather than a flood,” with city centre footfall still suppressed by the continuation of companies’ work-from-home policies.
She added: “However, the concern for retailers over the coming months must be the likely impact on spending of rising household energy prices and fuel costs.”
Shop price annual inflation surged to 1.5 per cent in January, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Nielsen IQ shop price index. This is the highest rate of inflation in a decade, since December 2012.