UK high streets empty on Boxing Day as shoppers stay at home

Empty London street

The UK’s high streets were largely deserted on Boxing Day, with shopper numbers down more than 60% on last year as people remained at home amid tighter coronavirus restrictions.

Data from the retail consultancy Springboard showed footfall on high streets, in retail parks and shopping centres on Boxing Day collapsed by nearly 76% in areas with tier 4 restrictions, where all non-essential shops selling things such as clothes, toys, furniture and electrical items were shut. Even in tiers 2 and 3, where all shops were allowed to open, footfall was down by 33.1% and 38.5% respectively, as many people opted to stay home.

The UK’s high streets posted a 63.3% fall in shopping numbers compared with Boxing Day 2019; shopping centres were down 65.4%, and retail parks recorded a 45% decline. Marks & Spencer and John Lewis decided to remain closed on Boxing Day this year.

The tougher coronavirus restrictions have compounded what has been a disastrous year for shops. Even the larger retailers are struggling; for example, the department-store chain Debenhams and the Arcadia Group, which owns brands such as Topshop, Burton, Evans and Dorothy Perkins, have called in administrators.

Large parts of England, comprising 43% of the population, are under strict tier 4 restrictions, while Scotland and Northern Ireland imposed fresh lockdowns on Boxing Day and Wales reintroduced restrictions that had been eased for Christmas Day.

Regional cities suffered a 72.2% fall in shopper numbers, while central London posted an 84.1% drop on Boxing Day, Springboard found. This compares with declines of 40.2% in coastal towns and 52.2% in market towns, showing people prefer to shop local.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “Boxing Day has been attracting less retail footfall each year in five of the past seven years, as shoppers turn online to grab the best bargains.

“Interestingly, Boxing Day has been evolving into more of a leisure-based day, with shoppers starting their trips later on in the day, and combining shopping trips with eating out and catching up with family and friends. The closure of hospitality in tier 3 and above means shoppers have remained at home and footfall has declined significantly.”