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UK Shoppers Swarm Stores As New Lockdown Looms

Consumers are converging on stores and eateries in England before new lockdowns are enacted on Thursday (Nov. 5) on all non-essential venues, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday (Nov. 4). 

The new mandate runs through Dec. 2 and includes the closure of pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, golf courses, gyms, swimming pools, entertainment venues and non-essential retail stores that sell books, clothing and sneakers. The new rules follow a surge in new COVID-19 infections.

Foot traffic on high streets and other shopping areas were up 19 percent over last week on Tuesday (Nov. 3), according to Springboard data, per FT. Restaurant reservations are also soaring and pubs have dropped prices.

Phil Urban, chief executive of U.K. pub chain Mitchells & Butlers, which is operating at 70 percent capacity per social distancing guidelines, said recent reservations “shot up.” 

“A lot of people are going out for their last hurrah for the next few weeks but we will absolutely make offers on [beer] and if we can get rid of it at cost price that’s better than throwing it away,” he added.

The new spate of sales are not enough to offset the slowdown triggered by the global pandemic. Revenue for merchants on high streets is down 28 percent from last year.

Diane Wehrle, director of insights at Springboard, told the news outlet, “To be hit with closures ahead of Christmas trading is really challenging.” Brick-and-mortar merchants are still the backbone of British retail, she said.

“Even at the height of [the first] lockdown roughly 70 percent of spending was through physical stores,” Wehrle said.

Merchants have gotten creative to attract sales during the pandemic, with the U.K.’s Eat Out to Help Out campaign promoting a 50 percent discount at restaurants Monday through Wednesday during August. The program might have added to the accelerating pace of new infections, however.

The new lockdown was instituted as the infection rate started to soar. Non-essential retail can offer delivery and curbside pickup only. 

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