Retail footfall surges on 'Freedom Day' but 'pingdemic' keeps shoppers cautious

Retail footfall surges on 'Freedom Day' but 'pingdemic' keeps shoppers cautious
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Wed 28th Jul 2021

Visits to UK shopping destinations grew by a massive 16.5% on Monday 19 July, the day coronavirus restrictions were removed in England, but growth slowed significantly in the days that followed with shoppers fearful of being pinged by the NHS COVID-19 app among the reasons.

Retail analysts Springboard said the week-on-week increase on the so-called "Freedom Day" was "staggering" but from Tuesday onwards, footfall rose by just 1.7% on average with a 3.3% hike across all retail destinations including high streets, retail parks and shopping centres.

The very hot weather kept shoppers away from urban retail locations, but the report said the "pingdemic" was evident too as consumers feared being pinged by the app and having to self-isolate.

With the sun shining, footfall in coastal towns last week was much stronger than in high streets generally with a rise of 11%. In contrast, Greater London saw a decline in footfall of -0.7%, compared to rises of +5.4% in the South West and +6.5% in the East, both of which have long expanses of coastline.

Despite the increases, overall footfall was still down 23.5% on the same week in 2019, and only a small increase on the 24.9% decline in the week before restrictions in England were lifted.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: "Following an above average start to the week as a result of "Freedom Day" on Monday 19 July, the growth in footfall in UK retail destinations slowed considerably from Tuesday onwards.

"This is likely to be driven by a combination of the extreme heat, the start of the school summer break, and an increased nervousness amongst shoppers in visiting potentially crowded areas created by the growing "pingdemic" which could force them to self-isolate."

In a separate report, Huq Industries showed that areas with high levels of pings by the COVID-19 app are experiencing declines in the number of shoppers and general movement of the public around towns and cities.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, which at 2.02% has the fourth highest number of pings per capita, mobility has fallen by 13.4% in July with retail footfall declining by 7.06%. In Plymouth, the second highest location for app alerts, mobility has fallen by 16.5% with shopper numbers experiencing a 1.67% fall.

The City of London is home to the biggest number of pings per capita which has contributed to a 13.1% cut in mobility and a 5.68% decrease in shoppers.

Huq’s analysis of link between NHS COVID-19 app alerts and mobility

Conrad Poulson, chief executive officer at Huq Industries, said: "The pingdemic has led to more people self-isolating, which in turn means fewer shopping trips and less moving around. On the one hand, it’s good to see that many people are following the app’s guidance to stay at home if they’ve been pinged, but on the other it’s also impacting the UK’s ability to recover from the pandemic.

"If the number of pings continues to rise, we could well see an even larger effect on retail footfall. The government will have to tread a fine line between keeping people safe and sparking a genuine economic recovery."

In the week ending 14 July, the NHS COVID-19 app sent a record 607,486 contact tracing alerts.

With many businesses being forced to close due to staff having to self-isolate after being pinged, the government is coming under increasing pressure to exempt more employees from having to stay at home.

Business groups have also called for ministers to bring forward the date from which doubled jabbed people in England no longer need to quarantine if they receive an alert. That is currently due to begin on 16 August.

Has your business been affected by the pingdemic? Email Dan with your experiences.

Read on: What 19 July coronavirus restriction changes mean for businesses in England

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance content creator and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I have 19 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from billionaires like Sir Richard Branson to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation including hosting the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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