Shoppers returning to the high street after pandemic slump

Scottish footfall decreased by 16.2% in January, a 6.6 percentage point improvement on the month before.

Shoppers returning to the high street after pandemic slump iStock

The number of people going into shops in Scotland has increased for the first time since before the pandemic hit almost two years ago, according to figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC).

Scottish footfall decreased by 16.2% in January, a 6.6 percentage point improvement on the month before.

This latest figure is above the UK average decline of 17.1%.

Footfall in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, also decreased by 17.6% in January compared to the same time two years ago, a 4.2 percentage point improvement on last month.

The SRC data compared January 2022 figures with pre-pandemic data from 2019.

David Lonsdale, director at the consortium, said the figures on visits to Scotland’s retailers show “a slight improvement”, with January showing “the least-worst footfall figures” seen since the onset of the Covid crisis twenty-two months ago.

“Footfall was down by a sixth on pre-pandemic levels demonstrating there is still a long way to go before any return to normal trading,” he said.

“The modest uptick will provide retailers with a flicker of hope that Scots are beginning to rediscover the pleasure of in-person shopping as the Covid situation eases, which will hopefully be lifted further following the rescinding this week of the work-from-home order and the return of commuters and office workers.”

However, according to the figures, shopping centre footfall decreased by 36.6% in January, down from a decline of 31.9% in December, its worst performance since lockdown ended in Spring 2021.

Lonsdale added: “This is perhaps unsurprising as stores in shopping centres are often disproportionally geared towards fashion, which would have felt the impact of public health instructions to shun socialising.

“They may have been held back, too, as Scots reined in their discretionary spending after the festive period and as shoppers contemplated the recent rises in inflation.”

He said retailers are “playing their part” in trying to increase numbers, but insisted the Scottish Government needs to support them in encouraging customers back into the shops.

Lonsdale said this could be done through temporary discounts to the cost of public transport or parking, or by giving every adult a voucher to spend in shops or eateries, as seen in Northern Ireland.

He added: “While this uptick in the level of physical shopping will lift retailers’ spirits, there remains some way to go before the industry can say it has turned the page on the pandemic.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant (EMEA) for Sensormatic Solutions, a company that focuses on shopper engagement said: “Total retail shopper traffic in Scotland improved on December’s figures, breaking the pre-Christmas plateau we had seen in footfall’s recovery and recovering to the highest point since the start of the pandemic.

“Retailers will be hoping this continued consumer confidence will remain and put a spring in to the step of the High Street.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is encouraging to see a slight improvement in footfall levels following a challenging period for the high street and many businesses.

“While we know our economic recovery remains fragile, not least due to the necessary public health measures introduced in response to the omicron variant, the Scottish Government is firmly focused on supporting our economy, including our high streets and town centres, to recover.

“Through the combined impact of the upcoming retail strategy, City Centre Recovery Taskforce and the £10m Scotland Loves Local programme, we are helping our local communities, towns and city centres recover.

“Since the start of the pandemic, businesses including retailers have benefited from more than £4.4bn in support from the Scottish Government and our non-domestic rates reliefs have saved businesses, including retailers, around £1.6bn since 1 April, 2020.”

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