Number of shoppers hitting Scottish high streets cut in half by Covid restrictions

Shopper footfall in Scotland was cut in half last month as coronavirus restrictions took their toll on the high street.

An empty Buchanan Street in Glasgow as people observe the initial spring 2020 lockdown. More recent restrictions have led to the closure of non-essential retailers yet again. Picture: John Devlin
An empty Buchanan Street in Glasgow as people observe the initial spring 2020 lockdown. More recent restrictions have led to the closure of non-essential retailers yet again. Picture: John Devlin

Industry leaders said retailers had been caught in a “pincer movement” between widespread local lockdowns at the start of December and a nationwide lockdown towards the end of the month.

The British Retail Consortium-ShopperTrak data showed that visitors to shops decreased by 50.2 per cent in December, compared with a year earlier.

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Although this marks an 18.9 percentage point increase from November it is below the UK average decline of 46.1 per cent.

The research analysed trends over the five weeks from November 29 to January 2.

In the final week – during which all of mainland Scotland moved into Tier 4 of coronavirus restrictions with non-essential retail forced to close – footfall fell to the lowest levels since May of last year.

The data shows Scotland had the shallowest shopping centre footfall decline in the UK, at 43.8 per cent.

David Lonsdale, director, Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Shopper footfall in Scotland fell like a stone last month, plummeting by over half compared to the same period the year before.

“Caught in a pincer movement between widespread local lockdowns at the start of the month and a nationwide lockdown at the end of December, this was the worst performance since the first national lockdown ended for non-food shops back in June.

“It rounded off an incredibly tough festive trading period and a truly dismal 2020 for much of Scotland’s retail industry, particularly those in more discretionary categories many of whom had been forcibly shuttered for half of the past ten months.

“Footfall declines affected all retail destinations. Visits to shopping centres wilted further, and footfall in our largest city – Glasgow was down massively.

“With stores shuttered and shoppers heeding government advice to stay home, the decline was especially pronounced during the week immediately after Christmas.”

He added: “This is an unnerving start to the year for many retailers. Even when stores are eventually permitted to re-emerge from this enforced hibernation, it is likely many will continue to suffer from lower shopper footfall.”

In Glasgow, footfall decreased by 59.8 per cent in December. The city has been in Tier 4 of restrictions since November 18.

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at ShopperTrak, said: “Not even the advent of the festive season could turn around the fortunes of the high street in December.

“As infection rates soared, fears of a mutated virus spread and Christmas gatherings were called into question or cancelled, it was really a case of ‘the strain that stole Christmas’ for retailers.

“December had started promisingly, with shopper counts recovering at the start of the month, boosted by shoppers’ get-ahead gift buying. But footfall soon fell away as UK consumers faced the prospect of tougher restrictions.”

Lonsdale added: “Whilst a return to trading is crucial, it will not be a panacea for the sector.

“That’s why we hope to see a recovery plan from government to get retail moving once again, including early visibility over continued business rates relief for the coming financial year, and short-term stimulus to boost consumer spending once shops can re-open through a high street voucher scheme.”

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