Google data reveals how our habits changed this summer

Life in Staffordshire this summer was much more normal than last year, data suggests, with footfall even surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

Meanwhile footfall remained below pre-pandemic levels in the West Midlands.

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 movements in different parts of their 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 Staffordshire, average activity across these categories was six per cent above normal levels between July and September. This was up significantly from summer 2020, when footfall was eight per cent below the baseline.

While in the West Midlands, average activity across the categories was 10 per cent below normal levels between July and September. However, it was up from summer 2020, when footfall was 16 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 eight per cent below normal levels last summer, to three 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 five 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 Staffordshire shows activity in retail and recreation establishments was three per cent above normal levels; in supermarkets and grocery stores, it was three per cent above usual; activity was 49 per cent above pre-pandemic measurements in parks and public spaces; it was one per cent above the baseline on public transport; and activity in workplaces was 26 per cent below normal.

While the data for the West Midlands shows activity in retail and recreation establishments was 12 per cent below normal levels; in supermarkets and grocery stores it was two per cent above usual; activity was 23 per cent above pre-pandemic measurements in parks and public spaces; it was 37 per cent below the baseline on public transport; and activity in workplaces was 27 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.

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