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UK high street recovery slows amid cost of living struggles

cost of living Shoppers cross the road in Oxford Street, in London, Britain August 14, 2016.  REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo
The cost of living crisis has negatively impacted the number of people visiting UK shops. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

The recovery in shopper numbers since the pandemic has slowed for the third consecutive month as UK households continue to deal with a once in a generation cost of living crisis.

Footfall was up by just 6.8% on last September, down from 8.6% in August and 15.6% in July, according to retail analysts Springboard.

High street footfall was 9.5% higher than last year but down from the 13.9% increase seen last month, while retail park visits were just 0.3% higher than last September.

Read more: UK mortgage interest rates surge past 6% to highest level for 14 years

Around half of all employees were still working at home for at least part of the week, impacting the retail sector recovery in high streets.

Springboard also said shoppers would spend even more cautiously from October in the face of inflation and the rise in interest rates.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, said: “Superficially, September’s results suggest that footfall has largely been unaffected by the cost of living crisis, with the gap from 2019 narrowing marginally to minus 12.6% from minus 13.2% in August.

“However, far more revealing of the severity of the economic situation facing households is provided by a comparison of footfall in September 2022 with September 2021, when all COVID restrictions had been removed.

“High streets are not only facing the challenge of inflation, but hybrid working is also impacting the recovery of footfall. With around a half of all employees continuing to work at home for at least part of the working week, activity in high streets remains significantly lower than in 2019, particularly during the Monday to Friday period.”

Read more: 'Recessions are coming' amid sharp rate hikes, BlackRock warns

She added: “The energy price guarantee introduced by the government has eased some of the severe doom felt by many households. However, the ongoing rate of inflation combined with the recent rise in interest rates means that from October onwards shoppers will inevitably exercise even greater discretion and be more considered in their purchasing behaviour.

“The impact on footfall and therefore on retail sales will be immediate, with it also being likely that fewer trips will be made to larger centres that incur a greater travel cost.”

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