Shoppers avoiding UK High Street in final run-up to Christmas

Shoppers avoiding UK High Street in final run-up to Christmas

Shoppers chose to avoid High Streets and city centres on the final weekend just before Christmas amid Omicron fears, according to retail analysis firm Springboard.

The number of people on High Streets fell by 5.9% on Sunday but rose 4.8% at retail parks week-on-week, the company said.

Springboard’s Diane Wehrle said consumers were “clearly cautious” about venturing out to the shops.

The trend towards retail parks was in part due to shoppers trying to get a head start in buying groceries, while also preferring the “Covid friendly” nature of retail parks, as they are in the open air, have large stores and can be easily reached by car, she said.

The Springboard figures also showed that 25.2% fewer people visited UK retail destinations on Sunday, compared to 22 December 2019, the Sunday just before Christmas that year.

However, visitor numbers across all UK destinations on Sunday were 33.2% higher than on Sunday 20 December 2020, when the UK entered its third coronavirus lockdown.

Consumer expert Kate Hardcastle said retailers are experiencing another “crushing blow” this Christmas because consumers were not really “buying emotionally”, in the way they usually did for loved ones in years prior to the pandemic.

“Shoppers are staying warm and dry, already isolating ready for the holiday at home and grabbing any extras online,” she told the BBC.

“Whilst shoppers had the intent to buy themselves a better Christmas than last year, the idea of not being able to spend it with loved ones again is just too much of a gamble.”

Ms Hardcastle said retailers had told her the key change was that consumers are”shopping differently” this year.

“A big national retailer explained it was getting as many staff on the tills as possible as people wanted to be in and out,” she said.

“That’s an important point – if we don’t dwell in stores our spending will not be the same and we will not see consumers pick up extras.”