Jan 8, 2021
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Calls for retail support after more woeful December trading figures, London hit hard

Jan 8, 2021

The plight of physical retail in the UK continues to be seen through yet more downbeat trading numbers that have led to further calls for more financial support from central government.

Photo: Sandra Halliday

Compounding the toughest of years for store retail, shopper numbers plummeted 46.1% year-on-year across all UK destinations during the five weeks to January 2, the latest British Retail Consortium/ShopperTrak survey showed.

High street stores were again hit the most last month, suffering a 49.5% drop in visitors, with shopping centres close behind, down 47.3%. Retail parks suffered the least with a 17.3% fall, as shoppers felt more able to visit these easier-access destinations.

But London was hit the hardest of all in December as footfall dipped a massive 58% with the capital at the epicentre of a third England lockdown. Wales and the south-east of England were the next worst-hit areas, while the north-west had the best end to the year, but with sales still down 36%.

The December figures pushed overall shopper numbers for 2020 to a 43% year-on-year decline across high streets, shopping centres and retail parks after three Covid-19-induced lockdowns across the year devastated retail. Shopper numbers in the supposed ‘golden quarter’ between October and December almost halved.

The BRC monthly figures were backed up by Ipsos who showed footfall across the full four weeks in December fell 53.7% year-on-year.

Meanwhile, BDO's high street sales tracker has shown like-for-like sales down 1.6% in December, helped by a boost at the beginning of December following the end of England's second national lockdown. Fashion sales were down 6.2%, lifestyle sales fell 5.4%, with homeware sales reporting a 29.3% like-for-like slump.

The series of dire numbers led to BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson to call on the government to extend a property tax holiday for retailers as lockdowns on non-essential retailers, including those selling clothing, were set to continue throughout January and into February at best.

“A third lockdown will be one too many for some businesses”, said Dickinson. “Rent bills continue to weigh heavily and the threat of a return to full business rates liability in April still looms.

“The government must urgently reassure those businesses hardest hit by the pandemic that they will receive vital financial support in the form of an extension to the coronavirus business rates relief”.

The boss of supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, Simon Roberts, also backed calls for business rates reform, saying the Covid-19 epidemic had made a review of the tax “absolutely critical and very important”.

“Covid needs to be the catalyst for change in the way business rates work”, Roberts told The Guardian newspaper.

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