Retail rallies in 2021 after Covid crushes 2020 sales

Store sales in July to December of 2021 were 3.5% down on the same period in 2019 – a huge improvement over the 33.1% nosedive seen in 2020.

This positive news was just one of the findings in the annual review from retail footfall researcher Springboard. Putting 2021 into context, it pointed out that sales in 2019 were down 4% on 2018 but that sales had also declined year on year each year between 2016 and 2019, largely, it suggested, because of the increases in spending online.

Between May and December 2021, sales across all retail categories declined by 4.2% over 2019, although electricals and mobile phones bucked the general trend by increasing sales by 3%. In the Home DIY and Garden category, which includes KBB retailers, sales for that period were down by 5.3%. To put that into context, the figure for department stores was -13.9%.

Overall footfall in January to March during lockdown three was down 69.4% from 2019 on high streets, improving in April to December to -25.8%. For retail parks in January to March, footfall was down 33.9% bouncing back to -4.4% in April to December. Shopping centres fared worst of all with figures of -71% recovering in April to December to -26.9%.

In December, the arrival of the Omicron variant and the subsequent implementation of Plan B and the Government advising people to work from home if they could had a significant impact, with the gap from 2019 rising to -22% for high streets from -15.8% in November, while for shopping centres it was -24.1% (-22% in November).

An interesting data set in the report highlights Capture Rate, which is the percentage of footfall that actually enters retail stores and so equates to market share in their trading location. For all retail categories in July to December, capture rate in 2019 was 11.9%, in 2020 it was 11.1% and in 2021 it was 10%. Springboard has been tracking this trend since 2015 and says that the number has been steadily declining, again, it says, because of the increase in online sales.

And when it comes to online sales, as a percentage of total retail it averaged 29.4% in 2021, up from 27.9% in 2020. During lockdown three between January and March 2020, online sales rose markedly to 35.7% of all retail sales, but fell again to 27.3% between April and December.

Springboard also measures footfall by location and found that there was a trend toward consumers shopping more locally. For 2021, footfall declined most in central London, down 52% on 2019, whereas in outer London it fell by only 27.3%. For regional cities it was down 37.8%, for market towns the figure was -30.9% and for coastal towns it was -31%.

The report also highlighted an increase in the shop vacancy rate, up from 9.8% in January 2020 to 11.3% by October 2020 – almost equalling the highest figure previously recorded of 11.9% in April 2013. In 2021, it remained high, averaging 11.7% over the year, with the rate above 11% in all four quarters.

The Springboard report also said that consumer confidence had been hit by the pandemic, but improved significantly in 2021 over 2020. Quoting GfK’s consumer confidence index, it highlighted a figure of -26 in 2020, which improved to -15 in 2021.

In its conclusion, Springboard said that the vaccination programme had been “a game-changer”. It said: “With the rapid rollout of the vaccine in 2021, bricks and mortar has weathered the storm of two new variants, with footfall strengthening every month until December, when the Government issued Plan B guidance to work from home, which took the froth off the expected uplift in footfall during the crucial Christmas period.”

The report concluded: “With nearly two years of home working under our belts, the vast majority of employees have set themselves up with an efficient way of doing this, and consequently we are fully expecting daytime visitation patterns during the working week to shift accordingly.”

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