UK retailers are braced for a subdued run-up to Christmas as the combined cold weather and rail strikes saw footfall to retail destinations drop last week.


Footfall fell across large UK cities last week as the rail strikes and cost-of-living crisis took their toll

The last full weekend before Christmas is traditionally a period of strong in-store trading for UK retailers, as customers rush to stock up on food and last-minute gifts for the day. While this year’s Christmas day falls on a Sunday, the combined pressures of cold weather, ongoing strike action and tough economic conditions meant footfall fell below expectations last weekend. 

Springboard analysis found that footfall across all UK high streets fell 10.2% year on year last week – with the gap blowing out to -22.6% from pre-Covid, 2019 levels. 

Shopping centres and retail parks were more resilient – up 1.8% and down 1.8% respectively – but were both still down massively on 2019 levels. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, in the midst of the rail strikes last week, footfall in central London was -31% lower than the week before, -20.7% across large cities outside the capital and -18.7% in historic towns.

Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said: “Last week – the week prior to Christmas – should have been a peak trading week for retail destinations and stores, with footfall expected to rise from the week before as Christmas shopping moves towards its zenith.

“Instead, footfall across UK retail destinations took a tumble last week. While the cold weather prevailed, which would undoubtedly have had some impact, the contrast with the results for the week before clearly demonstrates that it was the rail strikes that were the key impact on footfall.

“By far the hardest hit of the three key destination types were high streets, which lost both shoppers who couldn’t reach towns and cities by rail, but also employees who chose to work at home last week. 

“Some of this footfall migrated to retail parks and shopping centres, with both recording rises from the week before (albeit modest) versus a significant drop in footfall in high streets. Retail parks fared the best of all three destination types, supported by the fact they can be easily accessed by car with the bonus of free car parking.

“Across the range of towns and cities, central London, with its proportionately greater reliance on public transport and a significant working population, was by far the hardest hit. It was followed by historic towns, where narrow roads would have resulted in significant congestion deterring some visitors who weren’t able to arrive by rail. It was evident that many shoppers stayed local last week, with only a modest drop in footfall in market towns.”  

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson added: “Despite facing huge cost pressures, retailers are doing all they can to keep prices affordable for all their customers. But the cost-of-living crisis means many families might dial back their festive plans.”