Post-lockdown shopping recovery stalls as bad weather and fear of fuel shortages prompts many to stay home
- Shopper numbers in the final week of September fell to levels last seen in July
- The decline is blamed on rainy weather and fuel shortages
- The number of shoppers visiting UK stores is still 17% below pre-pandemic levels
- Retail parks continue to perform better than other shopping destinations
A post-lockdown shopping recovery stalled last month as wet weather and fears of fuel shortages prompted many to limit their shopping journeys to essential ones, new research has found.
While footfall at the start of September was strong, it slowed over the course of the month, with shopper numbers in the final week of the month falling to levels last seen in July, shortly after the last Covid restrictions were lifted.
‘Increasing rainfall and ongoing fuel and supply issues convinced some consumers to stay home’, said Helen Dickinson chief executive of the British Retail Consortium.
That highlights the ‘fragility’ of consumer confidence and how the economic recovery from Covid-19 can be ‘so easily undermined’, she added.
Wet weather and fuel shortages have dampened shoppers’ appetite for visiting stores
Shopping centres suffered the most as footfall fell further from August, remaining some 36 per cent below pre-Covid levels, the latest report by the BRC shows.
High street retailers saw a small improvement from August, with footfall levels higher than the three-month average, but shopper numbers were still almost 23 per cent below the same period in 2019.
With access to larger stores, parking, and petrol stations, retail parks continue to perform better than other shopping destinations, and footfall at the locations is almost back to pre-Covid levels.
In total, the number of shoppers visiting UK stores was down by around 17 per cent compared to two years ago.
That, however, still marks the highest recovery point compared to pre-pandemic levels yet this year.
Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, said this pointed ‘to a steady, albeit marginal, upward trajectory’ in spite of supply chain disruption and petrol shortages at the pumps.
|REGION||% growth compared to 2019|
|Source: British Retail Consortium|
London remains the worst affected city, with footfall in the capital still more than a quarter below what it was in September 2019.
Shopper numbers in Birmingham, home to the Bullring shopping centre, are also still some 22 per cent below pre-Covid.
Liverpool and Portsmouth were the best performers, with footfall down by around 10 per cent compared to two years ago.
Retailers, especially those on the high street, which were already struggling even before the pandemic, have been hammered by enforced store closures over the past year.
And now that they have reopened, they are struggling to replenish their stores with products due to the ongoing supply crisis and lorry drivers shortage as Brexit takes its toll.
The BRC called on the Government to extend the visa scheme for lorry drivers to avoid ‘significant’ disruption over the festive period.
‘As we approach Christmas, it is imperative Government takes further action to resolve the driver shortage which is increasing costs and creating delays throughout the supply chain,’ Dickinson said.
‘Retailers are trying to recruit and train thousands of new British drivers, but 5,000 visas are not enough to fill the gap in the short term.’
Retail sales recovery holds up
Despite fuel and weather disruption, retail sales rose for the seventh consecutive month in September, new figures by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO reveal.
Total like-for-like sales increased by 20 per cent in September, from a base of -1.3 per cent last year, mostly thanks to a 22 per cent rise in online sales, while store sales were ‘more inconsistent’.
Fashion saw the biggest growth with total like-for-like sales increasing by 32 per cent, although that is from a low base of -6.1 per cent last year.
Sales of homeware, a pandemic winner, rose by 8 per cent, and that’s on top of a rise of 19 per cent in September last year.
The sector recorded steady growth throughout the month except for the last week in September, BDO said.
Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said: ‘Despite the current economic uncertainty, retailers will be relieved that discretionary spending remained strong in September ahead of the all-important Golden Quarter.
‘However, the current challenges facing the sector mean this Christmas season could look very different.
‘While shoppers have become accustomed to generous Black Friday discounting in recent years, strong consumer demand combined with supply chain delays and higher costs could mean far fewer deals on offer.’