Coastal and historic towns thrive amid “strongest sales growth of the pandemic” for UK high streets

Pent up demand for in-store shopping, coupled with the reopening of hospitality and enduring appreciation of the return of non-essential retailers, has helped the UK’s retail scene to the strongest sales growth of the pandemic.

On a total sales basis, sales have increased 10 per cent in the four weeks covering May 2nd to 29th this year, against a decline of 2.7 per cent for the same period in 2019.

Meanwhile, footfall across the UK’s retail destinations has risen by 11.6 per cent week on week. High Streets witnessed increases of 17.4 per cent versus 8.7 per cent in shopping centres and just 2.3 per cent in retail parks.

However, it is UK holiday destinations such as coastal and historic towns that have witnessed the greatest increases, with a 37. 1 per cent rise in coastal areas, and 24.8 per cent rise in historic places.

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive, British Retail Consortium, said: “Retail sales were buoyant in May thanks to the reopening of hospitality, coupled with the afterglow of non-essential retail’s own return.

“Pent-up demand for the instore shopping experience, as well as the first signs of summer weather, helped retail to the strongest sales growth of the pandemic.

“There is a growing sense of consumer confidence, boosted not only by the widespread uptake of vaccinations and testing, but also retailers’ own significant investment in safety measures.”

Dickinson has explained that large cities remain the hardest hit by the pandemic, with many consumers continuing to work from home and increasingly choose to shop local. It has prompted new calls for a re-evaluation of the role of the high street.

She said: “Now is the time to consider what our future high streets and town centres will look like a decade from now. We must adapt to these changes, not only to build back better, but also to build forward.

“With vacancy rates still rising in many parts of the country, we must reimagine how we integrate residential and commercial property, allowing us to build stronger local communities that encompass leisure, retail, services, and homes.

“This will require retailers, property developers, and local government to work together and plan city centres that cater to these changing demands and truly innovate the high street model.”

A summer of cautious optimism

Elsewhere, it is the change in weather combined with the late May bank holiday that has seen shoppers take to the high streets and shops of some of the UK’s coastal areas and historic towns, as staycation holidaymakers fuel an ‘increase in footfall that surpassed that in any other type of UK high street.

According to Springboard insights director, Diane Wehrle, “the fact that the bank holiday occurred a week earlier than in the previous two years meant that footfall in both coastal and historic towns was actually higher last week than in the same week in 2019.

“Whilst the attraction of coastal and historic towns to visitors meant they benefitted the most last week, there was still a significant rise in footfall in central London and in other regional cities across the UK, while the most modest increases once again occurred in more local high streets.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail, KPMG, said: “Retailers now face an interesting few months as they assess how they best entice their customers back to stores and what the right blend of offline and online will be as spending patterns settle in a post Covid world.

“With the prospect of the full lifting of Covid restrictions coming into force this month, there will be increased competition for share of wallet as consumers focus on those leisure and hospitality activities that have been denied to them due to lockdown.

“It is a summer of cautious optimism for many retailers, who will be hoping that the continued success of the vaccine roll-out and an improving economy will offer scope to spark a big surge in consumer spending.”

Shoppers fuel sales growth in October but BRC warns that lockdown easing by December “is vital for survival”

Shoppers taking the opportunity to stock up on home comforts and food supplies ahead of the England-wide lockdown helped total retail sales increase 4.9 per cent in the four weeks to October 31, indicating some respite for the UK retailer hampered by coronavirus restrictions this year.

Despite the lift – one that measures in immediate contrast to the 0.3 per cent decline in the same period the year prior – KPMG has warned that the “gap between winners and losers” this year will be ‘stark’. It has said that while online sales remain high and are set to grow further during Black Friday and lockdown, not all retailers are in a position to adapt.

According to the British Retail Consortium-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, UK retail sales, excluding temporarily closed stores and including online sales, increased 5.2 per cent on a like for like basis. Non-food items fell nine per cent and 11.4 per cent in like for like and total terms respectively – but this is an improvement from the 12-month average decline of 19.6 per cent.

while Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive has hailed October 2020 as a month of strong sales growth for the UK, it has come with a caveat.

“Tightening restrictions across the United Kingdom and speculation towards the end of the month of an England-wide lockdown prompted customers to stock up on home comforts and food supplies,” she said. “During an incredibly challenging year for the industry, many retailers had finally thought that they were finding their footing.

“The new lockdown in England will now throw away this progress as we enter the crucial Christmas trading period, and we estimate that £2 billion of sales per week will be lost this month.

“It is therefore vital that retailers are able to trade from December 3 and we are asking government to urgently provide clarity about the criteria for reopening and to ensure that affected businesses are supported in the coming months.”

KPMG retail partner Don Williams, added: “The gap between winners and losers is stark with home-related items, like furniture and technology, putting in a strong performance while the improvement in fashion sales was short-lived. Online sales remain high and are set to grow further during Black Friday and lockdown.

“Not all retailers are in a position to take advantage of this shift in customer behaviour, which has been accelerated by circumstance and for many is now both choice and habit.

“The important Golden Quarter is likely to be unrecognisable this year, with some retailers losing a month’s worth of trading opportunity.

“Capacity is also likely to be a significant challenge over the coming months as there is a limit to online delivery availability and social distancing has reduced the numbers of customers that can safely shop in store at any one time.

“Some retailers will thrive in the new environment; others will find it bleak. The locked-in step-up in online activity will undoubtedly lead to further investments in digital capability and partnerships.

“Digital strategies have never been more vital, but those strategies must be cost-efficient, too.”