Omicron fears dampened last-minute Christmas retail boost, figures show

Hopes for a near-term Christmas boost for UK retail destinations have been dampened by the rise of Omicron, home work and consumer nervousness about missing out on celebrations, visitor numbers confirm.

Footfall across all UK retail destinations was 18.6% below 2019 levels in December, the worst result since August and a sharp drop from November, which fell 14.5% below 2019, according to Springboard data.

Visitor frequency was significantly impacted by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and the government’s introduction of Plan B guidelines from the third week of the month, Springboard said.

The usual increase in buyers in the run-up to Christmas did not materialize, as there was a mixture of nervousness among consumers about the rapid increase in infections and the risk of missing Christmas, the isolation of households due to infection and the renewed introduction of home work.

The biggest drop was on Main Street, where the gap in customer footfall from 2019 levels widened to a 22.2% drop from 15.8% in November.

In shopping malls, visitor numbers were 24.1% lower than in 2019, but the deterioration from November when it was 22% lower was more modest.

The bright spot of the month was in the fourth week, starting on December 19, when the 2019 drop in all UK retail destinations fell to 13.8% after falling 19.1% the week before.

However, the result was partially skewed by the fact that Christmas Day 2019 fell on a Wednesday, leaving only three full trading days compared to five trading days in 2021.

Diane Wehrle, Marketing and Insights Director at Springboard, said, “Visitor numbers were driven by increasing consumer nervousness about the rapid rise in infections and the risk of missing Christmas, households due to infection and the return to work from home

“The biggest challenge for retailers in the coming weeks will be the continued, frequency-dampening home management, combined with increasing staff shortages due to the isolation and the great return of purchased goods over the Christmas period.”

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