The shift to hybrid operation kept footfall on the street 18% below pre-pandemic levels last year amid predictions it may never fully recover, according to a report.
Overall, UK visitation for all destinations is down 14.2% in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic 2019, despite a slow but steady recovery, analysts Springboard said.
Visitors rose by 10.8% between May and December across all retail destinations compared to the same months in 2021 – when all stores reopened after pandemic restrictions – despite challenges posed by the cost of living crisis.
However, hybrid work has emerged on the high street, with weekday footfall remaining 18.2% down on 2019 levels last year.
Springboard’s quarterly survey of retail consumers found that an average of 55% of consumers worked at home at least a few days each week in 2022, with very little change in the rate of working at home over the year.
Springboard predicts that attendance will not return to pre-pandemic levels, settling between 5% and 10% down on 2019 this year.
While footfall at retail destinations picked up over the year, the importance of online spending declined from the peak reached during the pandemic.
During the ‘third lockdown’ in February 2021, 65% of clothing and footwear spending was done online, falling to 24.9% in December 2022.
Similarly, pre-Covid in January 2020 only 5.6% of food spending was online, peaking at 13% in January 2021 and falling back to 8.5% in December 2022.
Diane Wehrle, director of insights at Springboard, said hybrid work was now an established feature of the UK economy and would put downward pressure on the recovery in attendance to 2019 levels.
She said: “While hybrid operation and the ability of stores and destinations to adapt will be a key factor in determining their success, the fact is that in the absence of Covid visitors to UK destinations would have declined each year anyway.
“Over the decade that Springboard has been publishing its data, footfall has fallen by an average of 1.3% per year every year since 2009 and so even in the absence of Covid, footfall at UK retail destinations would now be around 4% lower than in 2009.
“Taking this into account, all things being equal, attendance will not return to pre-pandemic levels and in 2023 Springboard expects the gap from 2019 to settle at between 5% and 10%.”