Virus still starving UK shops of customers

A woman waits for a bus on a deserted Oxford Street in London back in March. (AP pic)

LONDON: The squeeze on Britain’s beleaguered retail sector from tighter coronavirus restrictions reducing numbers of shoppers on the high street clung on into September, data showed Friday.

Latest figures from industry body the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and analytics company ShopperTrack showed that UK retail footfall was down by 30.1% in September compared with a year earlier.

The data did show a slight month-on-month improvement in September from August – although local lockdown restrictions weighed on sentiment.

“As the second wave of the pandemic sweeps the UK and additional restrictions come into force, footfall has steadily dropped during the month as many shoppers chose to stay at home,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

She added: “It is likely that rising case numbers and future restrictions may see footfall decline in the coming months.

“Sales at upcoming holidays, including Halloween and Bonfire Night, are also likely to remain muted.”

Britain began emerging in June from a nationwide lockdown that lasted almost three months.

The lockdown sparked a surge in online shopping as people shunned high streets and switched to computer screens and smartphones.

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey meanwhile warned Thursday that recession-mired Britain faced the prospect of an “uneven” recovery, as the government battles a second wave of rising infections with tighter restrictions and localised lockdowns.

“When you look at areas of activity in the economy that require more close social interaction, it’s no surprise that they have been the weakest to recover,” he said at an online conference.

Bailey also warned that the risks were skewed to the downside – and noted Britons had been “cautious” in response to grim news of resurgent infections.

“There is an unprecedented level of uncertainty at the moment – and the risks I am afraid are still very much to the downside.

“Of course, that reflects both firstly the pattern of returning evidence of Covid, and secondly – unsurprisingly – the natural caution of people’s reengagement with (economic) activity in view of that.”