Petrol crisis hits retail footfall as shopping mall visits plummet

Shopping centre footfall in September declined by 35.6%, compared to pre-pandemic levels. Photo: Getty Images

Shopping centre footfall in September declined by 35.6%, compared to pre-pandemic levels. (Getty)

UK’s retail footfall was down in September with visits to shopping malls in particular taking a hit, as a shortage of fuel kept Brits at home.

“We saw a slight slowdown in September’s footfall recovery, which was particularly marked in the second half of the month as fears of fuel shortages prompted consumers to limit shopping journeys to essential trips,” said Andy Sumpter, retail consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions.

According to data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Sensormatic, total UK footfall decreased by 16.8% in September, when compared to 2019 before the pandemic hit. 

Shopping centre footfall fell by 35.6%, 2.7 percentage points below last month’s rate.

This was a 1.2 percentage point increase from August and above the three-month average decline of 20.5%

Footfall on high streets was down by 22.6%, 2.2 percentage points above last month’s rate, while retail parks saw footfall fell by 1.6%, but saw no change from last month’s rate.

For the second consecutive month, Wales saw the shallowest footfall decline of all regions at -16.2%, followed by Northern Ireland and England at -16.7%. Scotland saw the worst decline at -19.9%.

“While we saw a levelling off in shopper traffic counts last month, September still represented the highest recovery point compared to pre-pandemic levels yet this year, pointing to a steady, albeit marginal, upward trajectory even in spite of supply chain disruption and petrol shortages at the pumps,” said Sumpter.

Read more: UK petrol prices to hit all time high by Christmas, warns RAC

“And, the UK’s footfall recovery is far from tanking when we look across to our European counterparts.”

Looking ahead, he said retailers will be counting on the ‘golden quarter’ to capitalise on Christmas trade as the high street’s recovery continues.

BRC research has shown 79% of consumer will start holiday shopping between now and the start of December – “October and November will be critical months to encourage shoppers back into store.”

Meanwhile, BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said: “The final week of September saw the worst total footfall levels since the last week of July this year, shortly after the last COVID restrictions were lifted, demonstrating the fragility of consumer confidence and how the economic recovery from COVID can be so easily undermined.”

She urged the government to do more to resolve the lorry driver shortage, which is causing the fuel crisis as well as increasing costs and creating delays throughout the supply chain.

The government had said last month it will issue 5,000 temporary visas to tackle the shortage.

“Retailers are trying to recruit and train thousands of new British drivers, but 5,000 visas are not enough to fill the gap in the short term,” said Dickinson.

“The government should extend the visa scheme to help prevent customers facing significant disruption this Christmas.”

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