Shoppers continued to stay away from UK high streets last month despite the reopening of non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants following the lifting of lockdown measures.
The number of visitors to UK retail destinations dropped by 39.4% in July compared with the same month a year ago, according to figures from Springboard, a data company that tracks footfall at consumer hotspots.
Despite an improvement of almost a fifth from June, in the best month for visitor numbers since February, the figures suggest intense pressure remains for the high street as people continued to stay away from town and city centres amid the ongoing health risks from Covid-19.
Non-essential shops began reopening in England and Northern Ireland in mid-June, and in Wales and Scotland later that month. Hotels, pub and restaurants in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland followed suit in July, though customers were only allowed back inside Welsh pubs and cafes this week.
With social distancing measures in place, consumers are now gradually returning to towns and city centres. However, Springboard said that during the first full month without tough lockdown measures, bricks and mortar destinations only managed to attract six out of every 10 people who visited last year.
The latest snapshot comes after growing numbers of big high street names announce a raft of shop closures and job losses, as retailers, pubs, hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions face a sharp decline in income caused by the pandemic.
Consumers are increasingly spending online, while a lack of tourists from overseas and office workers venturing into town and city centres has had an impact on visitor numbers.
The figures precede the launch of the government’s eat out to help out restaurant discount scheme, which has led to a sharp rise in visitor numbers since the start of August. However, coronavirus infections are starting to increase in some parts of Britain, leading to local lockdowns and fuelling concern among consumers.
Springboard also said it was too early to tell if the mandatory wearing of face coverings had affected footfall, because it was brought in at the end of the month.
The reopening of non-essential shops had the biggest impact on high street and shopping centre footfall, although both locations still have much more ground to make up on retail parks, where car parking and large shops make physical distancing easier.
Compared to a year earlier, July footfall was down by 47.2% on the high street, by as much as 42% in shopping centres and 19.9% in retail parks. In central London, which is more reliant than anywhere else in the UK on tourists and office workers, visitor numbers remained 69% lower than in 2019.
Retail sales in the UK have recovered close to pre-pandemic levels driven by the release of pent-up demand, as shoppers made purchases in June that had been put on hold during lockdown. Spending on food, DIY and at garden centres rose sharply, although sales of clothes are still sharply down on a year ago.