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UK Foot Traffic Trends Augur Return to Business as Usual

Last week’s U.K. footfall came in 1.1 percent over the prior seven-day period, but traffic trends were noticeably higher after 5 p.m., a sign that nightlife is back and bolstering business.

High streets got a 2.4 percent bump and visits to shopping centers rose 1 percent, Springboard said on Monday, while footfall at retail parks dipped 1.7 percent. However, the foot-traffic-tracking data firm documented noticeable differences in evening activity. Whereas, high-street visits were up 0.8 percent before 5 p.m., they climbed 4 percent after, with Central London and other cities seeing the most pronounced bounce. Overall, footfall came in 28.7 percent below comparable levels in 2019, Springboard found.

Traffic was up 2.3 percent in coastal towns and up 11.8 percent in Central London, although some local high streets reported declines as consumers seemed to favor larger destinations home to a variety of dining options.

“The reopening of indoor dining on Monday of last week certainly supported footfall in U.K. retail destinations in face of prolonged and often severe rain across virtually all of the U.K. for much of the week. However, it was largely high streets that benefitted, where footfall rose by more than twice as much as in shopping centers and where the rise contrasted with a drop in activity in retail parks,” Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s insights director, said.

“The greatest benefit for both high streets and shopping centers was most definitely during the evening, when the rise in footfall in each was more than four times as great as during retail trading hours,” she added.

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The rise in traffic at night was also seen across the pond as local economies began resuming normal activity. Data scientists at Zenreach found that since the beginning of January, 10 major U.S. metro areas reported overall foot traffic growth, rising to 33 percent in the bar and nightclub sectors. Miami documented the most nightlife activity, with visits to bars and clubs climbing 21.8 percent, followed by Phoenix at 15.6 percent and Houston at 14.7 percent.

But while the rise represents a 10 percent increase from visits in June, the number of visits is still down 63 percent compared to January last year.

“The Q1 data leaves us very optimistic about consumer foot traffic throughout spring and leading into summer. Bars & Nightclubs should leverage these cues to start planning their ramp-up strategies: whether it’s expanding business hours, re-hiring, or picking up marketing efforts. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, we anticipate that these trends will continue to gain momentum moving forward,” said Megan Wintersteen, vice president of marketing at Zenreach.

Separately, in a deeper dive on what consumers across the pond are buying in stores, Coresight Research published Monday found triple-digit year-over-year surges in sales across retailers selling apparel and footwear. But the comparison to 2019’s pre-pandemic levels showed there’s still room for significant improvement.

Department stores and retailers selling a variety of goods saw an April year-over-year gain of 37.4 percent from last year, but up just 2.9 percent from April 2019. Apparel retailers were up 216.7 percent, but slipped 5.5 percent versus 2019. Large apparel retailers were up 217.8 percent, but fell 2.0 percent from 2019 levels. Small apparel retailers rose 205.7 percent from a year ago, but saw significant declines of 30.1 percent from 2019 figures. For footwear retailers, sales were up 159.6 percent from 2020, but were down 14.4 percent from the comparable 2019 sales period.

Coresight’s data found that online sales as a percentage of overall retail sales fell for the fourth consecutive month, reaching 29.4 percent in April. That reflects a decrease of 0.9 percentage points versus online sales in April 2020, but was still 11.0 percentage points higher than the comparable 2019 period.