No Olympic high jump for retailers as footfall suffers

New figures show that shops in central London have suffered a large year-on-year drop in footfall since the Olympics got underway.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Economist and media pundits have spent the last seven years talking about how the Olympics would bring a load of extra tourist cash into the struggling UK economy, but for London retailers the reality has, so far, been different. According to figures published today by research group Experian, the number of people who went shopping on Friday before the opening ceremony dropped 10.4% compared with the same Friday last year. So much for that influx of spend-happy visitors to London, then…

The drop in numbers continued over the weekend, too: there were 11.7% fewer visitors on Sunday than the same day last year, and whilst no figures are yet available for Monday, analysts do not expect the situation to improve. London 2012 organiser LOCOG’s campaign to get people to avoid ‘hotspots’ during the games has been too successful. And London is not the only place to suffer the effects. Dennis Spurr, owner of a hot dog company in Weymouth, told the BBC the campaign had been too ‘negative’, saying: ‘people have been put off, they’re not coming. Normally this time of year you can’t move. The town is dead and businesses are worried.’ Weymouth is playing host to several Olympic sailing events and was targeted by LOCOG’s campaign.

It’s easy to understand LOCOG’s rationale: a gridlocked central London with Usain Bolt arriving late for the men’s 100m final would have played out worse in the papers than a few disgruntled shopkeepers. But with last week’s figures confirming that we’re still in a double-dip recession, the last thing the economy needs is people avoiding the high street like the plague. One London retailer told MT his sales are down 30% compared with this time last year - numbers like that cannot be good for Britain's economic recovery.

Let’s hope Team GB gets some decent gongs during the course of the Games. But let’s hope even more that shoppers return to the high street so that struggling retailers can score gold, too…

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