UK shoppers avoid High Streets amid Omicron fears


By Mary-Ann Russon Business reporter, BBC News

UK shoppers chose to avoid High Streets and city centres on the crucial weekend just before Christmas, amid fears over the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

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

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

Shoppers were also making quick “in and out” visits, another expert added.

Ms Wehrle said, in part, this was 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.

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.

On Sunday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that further Covid restrictions for England over Christmas could not be ruled out, due to the rise in new cases.

Consumer expert Kate Hardcastle said that retailers were 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.”

A key change, Ms Hardcastle said retailers had told her, was that consumers were “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.”

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