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'Stark figures'

Footfall down by a fifth amid ‘tepid’ return of shoppers

Prince St retail shopping

Shopper numbers are well down on pre-pandemic levels

Retailers are seeing only a ‘tepid’ return of shoppers with footfall in Scotland down by a fifth on pre-pandemic figures.

Scotland is once again the weakest part of the UK outwith London and in spite of the opening of the £1 billion St James Quarter at the end of June.

According to SRC-Sensormatic IQ data Scottish footfall fell by 19.9% in September compared to the same month in 2019, a 1.3 percentage point increase from August. This is below the UK average decline of 16.8% (Yo2Y). 

Shopping Centre footfall in Scotland saw an even steeper decline – by 30%.

David Lonsdale, Director, Scottish Retail Consortium, said:  “September saw a tepid third consecutive monthly improvement for shopper footfall as customers continued to gradually return to Scotland’s high streets.

“That said, retailers will be disappointed to see figures continuing to languish a fifth down on pre-pandemic levels, with Scotland once again the weakest part of the UK out-with London. This is despite September being the first full month since physical distancing restrictions were lifted in Scottish stores.  

David Lonsdale

David Lonsdale: ‘stark figures’ (pic: Terry Murden)

“This sustained weakness is especially unnerving coming as it does ahead of the crucial festive trading period, when many shops have to generate the revenues which will tide them over the learner winter months.

“Policy makers have taken welcome steps to loosen stultifying Covid restrictions, while stores themselves are providing a welcome and safe shopping experience and a wide range of products with enticing offers.

“However, these stark figures lend urgency to the need for concerted action to bring energy and footfall back into our city centre retail destinations – action which for the moment at least feels like the proverbial hole in a Polo Mint, missing.

“City centre retailing can be a springboard for an economic bounce back but for that to happen there needs to be more shopper visits including the safe return of office workers to our city centres.” 

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, commented:  “We saw a slight slowdown in September’s footfall recovery, which was particularly marked in the second half of the month as fears of fuel shortages prompted consumers to limit shopping journeys to essential trips. 

“However, while we saw a levelling off in shopper traffic counts last month, September still represented the highest recovery point compared to pre-pandemic levels yet this year, pointing to a steady, albeit marginal, upward trajectory even in spite of supply chain disruption and petrol shortages at the pumps. 

“And, the UK’s footfall recovery is far from tanking when we look across to our European counterparts – while shopper traffic in the UK is down 17% on pre-pandemic levels, the likes of France and Germany are still seeing footfall down by over a third. 

“Looking ahead, retailers will be counting on the Golden Quarter to capitalise on Christmas trade as the High Street’s recovery continues – and with our research showing 79% of consumer will start festive shopping between now and the start of December, October and November will be critical months to encourage shoppers back into store.” 

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