Shopper numbers across Britain's high streets fell 2.6% over the 18-19 December weekend versus the previous weekend as the highly contagious Omicron variant of coronavirus kept people away, researcher Springboard said on Monday.
It said shopper numbers, or footfall, fell 8.5% in central London and 6.4% in cities outside of the capital.
The outcome was better in smaller market towns, shopping centres and retail parks, with footfall up 3.4%, 0.5% and 4.7% respectively, Springboard said.
Britain first expressed concern about the Omicron variant on 25 November. Two weeks later Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed tougher COVID-19 restrictions in England, ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use certificates of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to slow the spread.
Springboard said total shopper numbers over the week to 18 December, traditionally one of the biggest shopping weeks of the year, were up 5.5% versus the previous week.
Gap In Footfall
The gap in footfall from the 2019 level was 19.1% last week, but footfall was 22.5% above 2020 when many shops were closed during a general lockdown.
"The growing nervousness of consumers meant that (footfall) increases dwindled with each day that passed, and by Friday the uplift in footfall was around just a quarter of that on Wednesday," said Diane Wehrle, Springboard's insights director.
"This provided a forewarning for subdued performance of bricks and mortar stores and destinations over the weekend which, whilst regarded as the peak shopping weekend of the year, is exactly what occurred."
Boost In Sales
Official data published on Friday showed British retail sales rose faster than expected last month, helped by Black Friday discounts, early Christmas shopping and no lockdown restrictions that closed many shops last year.
However, Omicron has heightened fears of a muted end to the year.
Last week consumer electricals retailer Currys said its market had softened and online fashion retailer Boohoo warned on annual profit.