British Retail Consortium encourages consumers back to work despite rise in UK Covid-19 cases

The retail sector’s governing body said the ‘work from home if you can’ message could contribute to unnecessary job losses and store closures

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has urged the UK government to encourage workers back to offices, while footfall remains in decline.

According to data from ShopperTrak, UK footfall decreased by more than 34% in August; despite this figure improving 7% on July’s results, it still remains below the retail sector’s longer-term 12-month average decline of 27%.

Year-on-year shopping centre footfall declined by 37%, this was more than 10% lower than in July, but was below the 12-month average decline of more than 32%.

“Footfall remained well below normal levels in August,” BRC CEO Helen Dickinson stated.

“In-store discounting and demand for school wear helped lure some customers back to the shops, but with many office blocks still empty and much of the public avoiding public transport, footfall is not returning to towns and city centres, and this is having a devastating effect on the local economies in these areas.”

Consumers at risk?

However, the BRC’s figures and announcement comes after the UK experienced a sharp rise in new Covid-19 cases yesterday.

The rise of 2,988 new cases marks the highest reported on a single day since the end of May, and a rise of 1,175 on Saturday’s results.

Speaking in an interview the government’s Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said he was “concerned” about the results.

But Dickinson warned if the ‘work from home if you can’ advice does not change, more misery will be inflicted on retail and the economy.

“Unless this changes, more should be done to encourage people to travel and reassure them that public transport is safe,” she said.

“Government should also recognise that, while footfall is low, many businesses will not be able to manage their fixed costs, rent and business rates in particular, and unnecessary job losses and store closures will follow.”

Government ramps up office return

Last month, the government announced plans to ramp up its ‘back to work’ campaign, and over the weekend said it is “strongly encouraging” civil servants to get back to the office at least once a week.

Boris Johnson’s Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, told the BBC the survival of the UK’s economy rested on getting workers back into offices.

“The economy needs to have people back at work,” he said.

According to the Office of National Statistics, in April 46.6% of people in employment did some work at home

But Andy Sumpter, Retail Consultant at ShopperTrak, said that retailers are still waiting for their opportunity to bounce back as it approaches the busy festive shopping period.

“With many people still working from home, high streets in many major cities desperately await the return of tourist and office commuter footfall,” he noted.

“August also saw the UK recovery climb to second among its European peers, behind France.

“While this is encouraging to see, retailers are dealing with traffic levels that are still around a third lower than the same time last year.

“As retailers prepare to ramp up stock and promotions for the ‘golden quarter’ this will be a defining period for many retail businesses.”

Cosmetics Business has contacted BRC for further comment.

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