Returning office workers give high street a boost

back to work commuters

The return of office workers has provided a fillip for the retail sector as customer visits to high street stores and shopping centres rose last week, with central London in particular benefiting from the switch.

Visits to bricks-and-mortar stores rose by 2.7 per cent compared with the week before, according to Springboard, the data provider. During the working week footfall to high street shops increased by 6.7 per cent, before dropping by 1.5 per cent on Saturday.

Central London gained the most from office workers returning, with shopper numbers rebounding by 66 per cent compared with the same period last year, with week-by-week footfall rising by 8.8 per cent.

However, the figure in the capital remains 26.9 per cent lower than in the same period before the pandemic in 2019 as many office staff are working from home for part of the week and tourist levels have not fully recovered.

The boost from returning office workers has narrowed the gap between the high street and retail parks, however. High streets are now operating 15.8 per cent below retail parks, compared with 24.4 per cent the week before.

Since the start of the pandemic retail parks have been the sector’s best-performing location, as shoppers have chosen to drive and click-and-collect orders to limit the risk of infection from Covid-19, rather than bearing the extra risks of travel on public transport.

“Footfall in UK retail destinations last week rose from the week before, which is the first rise in the past four weeks and a particularly positive result, as footfall declined in the same week in both 2019 and 2020,” Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said.

The CBI has said previously that office workers are essential to the wider economy of shops, cafés and bars. Big cities where the proportion of office workers are highest, such as London and Liverpool, have struggled most.