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Comment: Retail parks to reap benefits of post-Covid-19 footfall

Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director digs into the fashion industry’s unpredicted Easter weekend, and predicts that retail parks will benefit most from an increase in footfall after Covid-19. 

Easter 2020 will forever be remembered as the Easter when the aim was for footfall to be as low as possible, a previously unheard of concept for bricks and mortar retail. The good news was that despite the good weather over the Easter weekend which was a clear temptation for people to go out, people adhered to the lockdown and stayed at home. Footfall in retail destinations over the four days was 83.1% lower than Easter weekend last year and 14.5% lower than over the same four days in the previous week. Footfall did increase by 3.7% on Saturday from the Saturday before, driven by increases from the week before in both coastal towns (+14%) and historic towns (+9.5%). However, on Monday there was a significant drop in footfall of 24.2% from the previous Monday, most probably aided by the much cooler weather.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director

March ended just a week prior to Easter, and which will be forever remembered as the month that the UK went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the closure of all stores but those selling the most essential of items. The impact of the lock down was immediate and enormous; whilst in the first two weeks of the month, before the lock down was implemented, footfall declined annually by an average of just -2.9%, in the final three weeks the year on year drop averaged -61.5%, reaching -81.4% in the last week.

The picture was more nuanced for retail parks; the panic buying that ensued when people realised that lockdown was an increasingly likely prospect, delayed the huge drop in footfall by a week and even when it did hit, the drop was 15% less than in high streets and shopping centres. Inevitably retail parks will continue to fare better during the lockdown than malls or high streets. The need to shop safely is paramount, and with a premium placed by shoppers on suitable “social distancing” large stores are more desired as they are situated in more spacious environments, most frequently found in retail parks.

Nonetheless, even at this early stage somewhat predictably our thoughts start to turn to how UK bricks and mortar retail will fare after the lockdown; it is likely that even when we are in recovery the psychological impact of the pandemic will linger with social distancing continuing to be the new normal for some time to come. If this were to be the case, then retail parks and the space they offer will be a favoured destination for many.

But what does this mean for stores in high streets and shopping centres? Well, it suggests that for stores in urban locations, which inevitably are smaller and more tightly laid out, discounting on its own will not be enough to lure back shoppers, particularly where the purchase is discretionary rather than essential. Retailers will need to dig deep and be far more imaginative about how to tap into consumers’ core motivations which, following an elongated period of isolation, will for many be driven by the need to communicate and belong whilst feeling safe and secure. Overlaid on to this of course, is the gratitude that people have for the NHS and other carers. So for retailers the way forward must be about the three “Cs”; Community, Care and Contribution.

To some degree we have all had to forsake the communities we have built through work, sport, friends, family and even shopping during the lockdown. Therefore, reengaging with shoppers and rebuilding that feeling of belonging will be hugely enticing. At the same time, the need to feel safe is paramount, and the fear of Covid-19 will linger for some time, so demonstrating care for both customers and staff will be key. This may include altering the layout of stores to increase space between displays, deeper counters so staff are further away from customers when they pay, limiting the number of customers that are allowed to be in the store at any one time, and even setting up a system for pre-booking appointments to browse. Thirdly, and certainly not least, is the gratitude and awe that everyone feels for the NHS, other care workers and also shop staff who are enabling us to buy essential goods. Shoppers will undoubtedly respond positively to those stores who contribute on an ongoing basis to all those who worked tirelessly to keep us well, safe and provided for during such troubling times.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Gracious Store

    Not until the the COVID -19 pandemic is over can anyone put a measure on its impact on human life and businesses.

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