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What’s Happening With Retail Foot Traffic in the US and UK

Pent-up demand buoys foot traffic when fashion retailers are allowed to reopen, but the post-reopening trend in footfall seems to hit a more modest pattern that’s best described as a new normal.

For the week beginning April 25, foot traffic in Scotland and Northern Ireland jumped 74.9 percent and 45.7 percent, respectively, after stores selling non-essentials were allowed to reopen. Those surges were similar to the 88 percent growth in footfall when the U.K. reopened the week of April 12.

But what the U.K. data from Springboard showed in the weeks that followed was a dip in foot traffic. Part of that was attributed to children going back to school and people continuing to work from home, meaning consumers had more time to visit stores on weekends versus weekdays.

That pattern continued across the U.K. for the week beginning April 25, which saw a 2 percent decline in foot traffic across all U.K. destinations from the prior week, according to the British data firm. While the traffic for the week was up 263.6 percent compared to the year-ago period, when compared to the same week in 2019, footfall was still down by 25.9 percent. High streets saw bigger declines,  down 6.1 percent from the prior week and decreasing 34.7 percent from the same 2019 week.

While there was a bit of a dip in footfall in later weeks, overall the month of April still saw foot halving the gap from 2019.

According to Springboard’s data, foot traffic was 32.7 percent lower than the 2019 pre-pandemic level, compared with a decrease of 55.2 percent in March.

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“We anticipate that the gap between the level of footfall in 2019 and 2021 will narrow further, although the extent to which this occurs will be a function of the degree to which there is a return to office working, the growth in both domestic and overseas tourism in the U.K. and the impact of the end of the furlough scheme in September,” Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, said.

In the U.S., a round of federal stimulus checks in March gave consumers something to cheer about, and many elected to go shopping. Pent-up demand powered an uptick in apparel sales in March, particularly at brick-and-mortar stores.

But U.S. foot traffic also started falling in the second week of April, according to data from the retail and apparel equity analyst team at Cowen & Co.

Cowen’s latest report for the fourth week of April said total U.S. retail traffic was 53.3 percent of 2019 footfall levels, and down 43.8 percent from the week before. Temperatures for the week were three degrees above normal, the team noted.

The research team estimated that the first week of May could see U.S. retail traffic in the range of 55 percent to 60 percent of 2019 levels. Weather-wise, the team cited Weather Trends International, which is forecasting the first week of May to be warmer and wetter than last year. Cowen’s footfall data for the first week of May should be out by May 12.