Shopper numbers rise as Britons prepare gardens for lockdown ease

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A shopper browses in IKEA store in Wembley, north London

LONDON (Reuters) -The number of people heading out to UK shops rose by 6.6% in the week to March 27 versus the previous week, partly as Britons refreshed their gardens ahead of the easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, industry data showed on Monday.

From Monday, those in England will be able to meet up with up to six people outdoors for the first time in nearly three months.

Market researcher Springboard said shopper numbers, or footfall, grew 6.6% in high streets week-on-week, climbed 9% in retail parks and was up 4.3% in shopping centres.

“The uplift was much larger last week, and this was primarily a result of far greater footfall in retail parks and shopping centres,” said Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s insights director.

“The rise in retail parks most likely due to shoppers upgrading their gardens in advance of the relaxation of restrictions this week.”

England’s latest lockdown started on Jan. 3, though home improvement retailers and food outlets, classified as essential, have remained open.

Official data published on Friday showed British retail sales partly recovered in February, helped by locked-down consumers getting outdoor furniture in preparation for small garden parties.

Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a roadmap out of the latest lockdown that will see non-essential shops open again on April 12.

Springboard forecast that footfall would increase noticeably in the week ahead, possibly by as much as 15% week-on-week, given the relaxation of restrictions and a forecast of warm weather for much of the UK.

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It said footfall in the week to March 27 was 68.1% higher than in the same week of 2020, at the start of England’s first COVID-19 lockdown.

Shopper numbers were still 57.3% lower than in the same week in 2019.

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