Business

Central London In Bid To Win Back Christmas Shoppers

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Christmas Lights on Regent Street in London in the shape of a large white angel with outspread wings

A close-up view of the Christmas Lights on Regent Street in London, UK.

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London’s West End is a world-famous shopping destination loved by locals and tourists alike. Home to iconic retailers such as Liberty, Hamley’s, Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason amongst many others, it has also been among the areas hardest hit by the pandemic.

Research commissioned by New West End Company, representing over 600 retail and leisure businesses in the West End, shows that customer confidence in visiting the area has declined. Only 40% surveyed felt confident in shopping for non-essentials, with fears over using public transport coming top of the list of concerns.

Despite a brief re-bound in footfall during the summer months, the lack of both tourist and office-workers have resulted in the district receiving just 50% of its usual foot traffic.

With the all-important Christmas period right around the corner, New West End Company yesterday revealed a series of measures to win back customers.

The importance of the Christmas season

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The news that London has moved into Tier 2 on the Covid alert system could not have come at a worse time for retailers. The importance of the final three months of the year to their businesses cannot be underestimated.

For the West End, Christmas shopping in a normal year provides a huge amount of footfall. Crowds of shoppers flock to the area to experience the lights, the festive atmosphere and the elabourate window displays.

Jace Tyrrell, Chief Executive of New West End Company said: “The West End normally records around a third of its annual sales in the eight week lead up to Christmas, trade that is essential to the survival of many retailers.”

Safety is key

Retail footfall since the pandemic has been heavily tied to the amount of confidence that customers have in their ability to remain safe while shopping. New West End Company have addressed this with a number of measures such as an increase in the number of visible security guards, more cleaning crews and updated hand santising totems.

In addition, they have looked to address shopper concerns on transport safety by encouraging bike travel. Provision for bike parking has increased, as well as a QR code for the public to scan and access the West End map which includes details of where bike parking is available.

The festive season is also being extended, in a bid to avoid crowds by allowing a longer period of time for them to visit the famous lights. The Christmas light switch-on has been brought forward across Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street.

Will it work?

With so much at stake, New West End Company have pulled out all the stops to keep the Christmas shopping magic alive.

As Tyrrell explains: “We are within easy and safe reach of millions of shoppers, and I can promise that despite the restrictions there will be no place more magical in the world to experience Christmas than the West End this season.”

But will the customer be tempted in? Nick Brackenbury, co-founder and CEO of NearSt, a retail technology company connecting products in shops to people searching near by, has seen evidence that to the contrary, the customer is increasingly looking to shop locally.

“Over the past 6 months we’ve seen a massive growth in shoppers seeking information online about what’s in stock in their local shops. It has settled at around 3x the volume of local availability searches we were seeing pre-pandemic” he explains.

“Shoppers are getting used to searching online for local product availability to purchase offline in their local store.”

Whether the customer will be tempted back in to the bright lights of the West End, or prefer to stay closer to home when it comes to choosing their Christmas gifts, remains to be seen.

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