Footfall to retail locations will continue to suffer “for some time to come”, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned, despite non-essential shops reopening their doors today.

Retail’s trade association has called on the government to put policies in place “to stimulate demand”, including reductions in VAT or income tax for low earners.

The BRC cautioned that, without such moves, “many physical shops could end up closing their doors again – only this time permanently”.

The warning came as footfall to physical stores plummeted 81.6% in May as a result of lockdown measures. That did, however, mark a shallower decline than that suffered in April as more shops, including garden centres and homeware stores, began to reopen.

Shopping centre footfall dropped at the steepest rate during the four weeks to May 30, tumbling 84.9% year on year, according to the BRC-ShopperTrak Footfall Monitor.

Shopper numbers on high streets were down 77.8%, while footfall to retail parks declined 55%.

In other countries where lockdown measures have been eased and non-essential stores have been allowed to reopen, footfall has risen between 15% and 25%.

Although UK retailers will be hoping for a similar uptick in traffic to their stores as they reopen this week, BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson warned that it was “unlikely to deliver immediate relief”.

Dickinson added: “A mix of low consumer confidence and limits on the number of people able to enter stores mean that many shops will continue to suffer lower footfall – and lower sales – for some time to come.

“The government should consider options to stimulate demand, such as a short-term reduction in VAT or a temporary income tax cut for lower-income workers.

“As they return to serving the country, there is still a risk that many physical shops could end up closing their doors again – only this time permanently.”

ShopperTrak EMEA retail consultant Andy Sumpter added: “In the short term we expect consumers will visit less but buy more each visit, making each shopper all the more precious. Footfall has a totally new value.

“Retailers will have to adapt quickly on how to manage social distancing and site occupancy levels, and give consumers comfort as they start to come back.

“Initially, consumers may give retailers some goodwill, but soon enough, if there’s a smaller queue, a better managed car park or a seemingly safer, easier shopping environment, shoppers will vote with their feet.”