Working from home hurts high street recovery

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Workers declining to return to the office are hurting the recovery of Britain’s high streets as new figures show sales are still a fifth below pre-pandemic levels during weekdays.

Research from Springboard found that high street stores are much emptier than they were pre-pandemic between Mondays and Fridays, particularly around offices, coming almost a year after all Covid restrictions were eased in the UK.

Footfall in high street shops was shown to be down more than 18pc on 2019 levels on weekdays, whereas at weekends it is just 11.8pc below pre-pandemic levels.

Analysts at the data firm said this was down to a higher proportion of people still working from home part of the week, despite efforts by employers to get staff back in offices. Springboard said more than half of UK consumers were working remotely for at least one day a week.

The figures come amid frustrations from employers over the difficulty in getting staff back into offices, with official data recently revealing that around 14pc of workers still work from home exclusively. This is despite a drop-off in employers advertising remote roles.

Springboard’s insight director Diane Wehrle said hybrid working was now an established feature in the UK economy and would weigh on the return of shoppers into high streets, particularly in city centres. Between May and December, the number of shoppers coming into central London stores was around 18pc lower than in 2019.

However, Springboard figures suggested there were some bright spots for brick-and-mortar retailers, as shoppers switch from buying online to back in stores. In December, less than a quarter of the total amount shoppers spent on clothes and shoes was online, compared to 65pc in February 2021.

Online grocery sales have also slipped, with around 8.5pc of the total amount spent on food going on online sales, compared to 13pc in January 2021.

The shift among shoppers has already prompted leading online brands to warn of sliding sales. Last week Boohoo said it expected sales to fall by 12pc for its full year to the end of February.

The recent delivery turmoil, brought about by Royal Mail strikes, has also spurred an uptick in people buying in stores over online. Evri this month apologised to customers who are still facing delays to their Christmas deliveries.

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