How shoppers were avoiding town centres - even before national lockdown

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High streets and shopping centres in the East of England have suffered a steeper decline than the national average (Photo: Terry Harris)

Data from retail analysts Springboard show a significant 62% year-on-year fall in shopper numbers across the region in the week beginning Sunday, December 27, with the usual Boxing Day sales rush replaced by empty streets. The figure was greater than the 56% year-on-year UK-wide decline.

In the previous week - the run up to Christmas when some areas in the east including Peterborough were already in Tier 4 - the region also suffered a far steeper decline than the UK average; the East of England saw a week-on-week decline of 39%, compared to the UK figure of a 23% fall.

In the East, shopping centres took the biggest week-on-week hit with a 45% drop compared to the 32% UK average. They were also down 76% compared to last year (the UK-wide fall was 60%).

The region's high streets were next with a 42% fall compared to 22% UK-wide week-on-week, and 66% year-on-year (UK average was 65%) drop.

East Anglia's retail parks also saw week-on-week drops of 26% compared to 17% across the UK. Year-on-year that worked out as a 40% drop compared to 32% across the UK.

Nationally, footfall in Tier 4 locations was 72% lower than last year, compared to 34% lower in Tier 3 locations, Springboard said.

The analyst said it was "unsurprising" the greatest loss of footfall compared to last year continued to be in London and large city centres with the 'stay home, stay local' message seeing smaller towns more resilient.

Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said the end of the festive trading period and tightening restrictions unsurprisingly resulted in a significant drop in footfall at the end of 2020.

"We know from our experience of retail reopening in June 2020 that until the widespread roll-out of the vaccine retail footfall will remain significantly below the pre-Covid level," she said.

The Springboard data is supported by additional figures from Google, which show that between November 22 and January 3 visits to retail and recreation venues in Peterborough fell by 63% compared to the average baseline, established in January and February of 2020, before the pandemic began.

Supermarket and pharmacy visits have also dropped - although rose to above the baseline expectations twice over the Christmas period. Once, before Christmas Day itself, likely because many people had to change their plans and buy dinner for their household when the Tier 4 restrictions came into place, and once before New Years Day as people stocked up to welcome in 2021.

Of the national decline in footfall, Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at ShopperTrak, said: "Not even the advent of festive season could turn around the fortunes of the high street in December."