Pent up demand for in-store shopping, coupled with the reopening of hospitality and enduring appreciation of the return of non-essential retailers, has helped the UK’s retail scene to the strongest sales growth of the pandemic.
On a total sales basis, sales have increased 10 per cent in the four weeks covering May 2nd to 29th this year, against a decline of 2.7 per cent for the same period in 2019.
Meanwhile, footfall across the UK’s retail destinations has risen by 11.6 per cent week on week. High Streets witnessed increases of 17.4 per cent versus 8.7 per cent in shopping centres and just 2.3 per cent in retail parks.
However, it is UK holiday destinations such as coastal and historic towns that have witnessed the greatest increases, with a 37. 1 per cent rise in coastal areas, and 24.8 per cent rise in historic places.
Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive, British Retail Consortium, said: “Retail sales were buoyant in May thanks to the reopening of hospitality, coupled with the afterglow of non-essential retail’s own return.
“Pent-up demand for the instore shopping experience, as well as the first signs of summer weather, helped retail to the strongest sales growth of the pandemic.
“There is a growing sense of consumer confidence, boosted not only by the widespread uptake of vaccinations and testing, but also retailers’ own significant investment in safety measures.”
Dickinson has explained that large cities remain the hardest hit by the pandemic, with many consumers continuing to work from home and increasingly choose to shop local. It has prompted new calls for a re-evaluation of the role of the high street.
She said: “Now is the time to consider what our future high streets and town centres will look like a decade from now. We must adapt to these changes, not only to build back better, but also to build forward.
“With vacancy rates still rising in many parts of the country, we must reimagine how we integrate residential and commercial property, allowing us to build stronger local communities that encompass leisure, retail, services, and homes.
“This will require retailers, property developers, and local government to work together and plan city centres that cater to these changing demands and truly innovate the high street model.”
A summer of cautious optimism
Elsewhere, it is the change in weather combined with the late May bank holiday that has seen shoppers take to the high streets and shops of some of the UK’s coastal areas and historic towns, as staycation holidaymakers fuel an ‘increase in footfall that surpassed that in any other type of UK high street.
According to Springboard insights director, Diane Wehrle, “the fact that the bank holiday occurred a week earlier than in the previous two years meant that footfall in both coastal and historic towns was actually higher last week than in the same week in 2019.
“Whilst the attraction of coastal and historic towns to visitors meant they benefitted the most last week, there was still a significant rise in footfall in central London and in other regional cities across the UK, while the most modest increases once again occurred in more local high streets.”
Paul Martin, UK head of retail, KPMG, said: “Retailers now face an interesting few months as they assess how they best entice their customers back to stores and what the right blend of offline and online will be as spending patterns settle in a post Covid world.
“With the prospect of the full lifting of Covid restrictions coming into force this month, there will be increased competition for share of wallet as consumers focus on those leisure and hospitality activities that have been denied to them due to lockdown.
“It is a summer of cautious optimism for many retailers, who will be hoping that the continued success of the vaccine roll-out and an improving economy will offer scope to spark a big surge in consumer spending.”