Omicron sees retail suffer on last weekend before Christmas

Shoppers on Regent Street, London, on the final Saturday before Christmas.
Shoppers on Regent Street, London, on the final Saturday before Christmas.
// Omicron concerns see retail trading suffer on last weekend before Christmas
// Cautious shoppers stay away from city centres and the high street to shop online

Omicron concerns have seen retailers continue to suffer as shoppers stay away from city centres and the high street on what is usually the busiest weekend of pre-Christmas trading.

Concerns over the rapidly-rising rates of Covid-19 – driven by the spread of Omicron variant are keeping many shoppers away from key retail locations across the country over the crucial final weekend before Christmas.

The latest data from retail intelligence firm Springboard showed that footfall on Saturday and Sunday was up by 0.8% and down by 1.8% respectively, going against the usual trend which sees footfall figures soaring ahead of the big day.

There were hopes for a strong festive trading period to make up for losses over the past 20 months. However, the number of overall visits was 18.1% lower across all retail sites on Sunday (compared with pre-pandemic levels in 2019) while for shopping centres they plummeted by 25.2%.

Sunday’s visits saw shopper numbers drop even further; with footfall down by 25.2% and 32.9%, respectively.

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“Shoppers are clearly cautious about venturing out and are self-censoring,” said Springboard’s insights director, Diane Wehrle.

“All of this drop has been driven by fewer trips being made to high streets and shopping centres, with high streets particularly hard hit.”

City centres have been seeing a marked drop in footfall since the Plan B restrictions were announced, according to a number of trade groups and retail analysts, including the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

“The rise of the Omicron variant, combined with the Government’s work-from-home advice, has resulted in fewer people visiting shops and high streets, particularly in large city centres,” said the BRC’s chief executive Helen Dickinson.

“There has already been a gargantuan effort to ensure that essential food and gifts are ready for the festive season, despite ongoing challenges in the supply chain.

“We are confident it can be a great Christmas for consumers, and retailers are pulling out the stops to keep staff and customers as safe as possible during these difficult times.”

The difficult trading weekend had been predicted last week, with the New West End Company showing on Thursday (16 December), that customer traffic had dipped by 7% from the previous week, and was 32% below the same day in 2019.

The company’s chief executive, Jace Tyrrell, said at the time: “With rising Covid cases dampening consumer confidence … we’re anticipating a muted final weekend of Christmas trading at a time when West End businesses should be enjoying a much-needed boost.”

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  1. The weekend was dire! Quietist Saturday before Christmas I’ve ever known. Only some retail parks were busy and not manic like expected but busier than high streets & shopping centres


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