Busier summer in Bedford as footfall up on 2020
Though better weather would have further boosted retailers' fortunes
Life in Bedford this summer was much more normal than last year, data suggests, though footfall remained below pre-pandemic levels.
All coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England on July 19, with people allowed back in hospitality venues without needing to socially distance for the first time since March 2020.
Google uses location data from phones and other personal devices to track trends in people's movement in different parts of their daily lives.
It compares footfall in five areas outside of the home – retail and recreation, supermarkets and pharmacies, parks, public transport and workplaces – to a five-week baseline period recorded before the Covid-19 crisis.
In Bedford, average activity across these categories was 14 per cent below normal levels between July and September.
However, this was up significantly from summer 2020, when footfall was 29 per cent below the baseline.
Most rules were relaxed last summer in England, with shops, outdoor hospitality and indoor venues reopened – though nightclubs remained shut, large-scale events were banned and social distancing rules were still in place.
Across the UK, activity increased from 8 per cent below normal levels last summer, to 3 per cent above this year.
Retail and recreation establishments – such as restaurants, cafes and shopping centres – saw a 17 percentage point increase, matched only by supermarkets and pharmacies.
Paul Martin, UK head of retail at accounting company KPMG, said: "Following a period of extensive lockdown, there was certainly pent-up demand from consumers to get out and into stores to enjoy the physical shopping experience they had missed.
"We saw retail sales on the high street grow by nearly 5 per cent in July and online shopping levels fall back as shoppers purchased clothes, shoes and accessories for those much-needed social events."
He said the Euro 2020 football tournament and a period of hot weather in July gave customers plenty of opportunities to celebrate and spend money – though a better summer would have further boosted the fortunes of retailers.
Retail analytics firm Springboard said its own data showed a significant increase in footfall on UK high streets.
Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said the "absence of easy international travel" increased the popularity of day trips and holidays within the UK this year, providing a boost to high street footfall.
"In coastal and historic towns the improvement was even greater, demonstrating the appeal of town centres to visitors,” she added.
Google data for July to September in Bedford shows:
Activity in retail and recreation establishments was 9 per cent below normal levels
In supermarkets and grocery stores, it was equal to usual
Activity was 30 per cent above pre-pandemic measurements in parks and public spaces
It was 38 per cent below the baseline on public transport
And activity in workplaces was 24 per cent below normal
The British Retail Consortium said its figures show footfall in high streets, retail parks and shopping centres rose from July to August, but was still below normal.
Kyle Monk, director of insights at the BRC, said: “While it is doubtless that the reduction in restrictions and rise in vaccinations have greatly helped footfall regain ground since last year, it remains well below pre-pandemic levels."
He added retailers are hoping for a further Christmas boost, but that this would "almost certainly fail to materialise" if new Covid restrictions are introduced.