Shoppers dwindle on retailers' busiest weekend amid Omicron fears

Shoppers hit the streets on retailers’ busiest weekend of the year but numbers dwindle due to Omicron fears as Harrods and others start Boxing Day sales 10 days early

  • Britons headed out on Saturday morning to grab last-minute presents on the last weekend before Christmas
  • Pictures showed shoppers flocking out to enjoy festivities in cities including Exeter, London and Liverpool 
  • But footfall on high streets across the UK has dwindled amid fears of the highly transmissible Omicron strain
  • Figures showed high street visits across the UK on Thursday morning were down 2.7% on last week’s figure

Shoppers have taken to the streets on the last weekend before Christmas but numbers have dwindled amid Omicron fears while some stores have started their Boxing Day sales 10 days early. 

Britons headed out on Saturday to grab last-minute presents as Christmas rapidly approaches next weekend, but a low footfall has been predicted for retailers’ busiest weekend of the year as the rapid spread of Omicron has forced people to stay at home.

But groups of shoppers in cities including Exeter, London, York and Liverpool still flocked out to the high street and Christmas markets on Saturday morning, with some seen wearing face masks on their festive outings.

The number of people visiting High Streets across the UK has plunged amid fears over the Omicron super-mutant variant, with Central London seeing a footfall nosedive and big West End shows being temporarily closed. 

London’s main shopping and entertainment district predicted a muted final weekend of Christmas trading after customer traffic plunged on Thursday, with the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant keeping people at home.

OXFORD STREET: The number of people visiting High Streets across the UK has plunged amid fears over the Omicron super-mutant variant, with Central London (pictured on Saturday morning) seeing a footfall nosedive

LIVERPOOL: Britons headed out on Saturday to grab last-minute presents as Christmas rapidly approaches next weekend, but a low footfall has been predicted for retailers’ busiest weekend of the year

YORK: Crowds flocked on to the streets in The Shambles despite continuing fears about the Omicron Covid variant spreading rapidly

EXETER: Groups of shoppers in cities including Exeter, London and Liverpool still flocked out to the high street and Christmas markets on Saturday morning, with some seen wearing face masks on their festive outings

NEWCASTLE: Huge crowds pack onto Northumberland Street on the final Saturday shopping day before Christmas

BRISTOL: Shoppers were seen getting into the festive spirit at Cabot Circus shopping centre, as people dressed in festive colours and Santa hats

CANTERBURY: People enjoyed the festivities in the city centre on Saturday as they headed out shopping wearing Santa hats

LEEDS: Shoppers were seen in the city centre on what is normally the busiest day of the year for Christmas shopping on Saturday

People flocked to Exeter city centre in Devon on Saturday afternoon as they crammed in their shopping on the last weekend before Christmas 

London’s main shopping and entertainment district predicted a muted final weekend of Christmas trading after customer traffic plunged on Thursday. Pictured: Exeter city centre on Saturday morning

Santa Claus was getting people into the Christmas spirit at a festive market in Bristol on Saturday morning 

Huge crowds fill The Shambles in York on the final Saturday shopping day before Christmas, with some people wearing face masks amid the dense crowds

Huge crowds pack on to Northumberland Street in Newcastle on the final Saturday shopping day before Christmas amid Omicron fears

Parliament Street in York was jam-packed with shoppers on the final Saturday of shopping before Christmas weekend

The New West End Company, which represents 600 brands, restaurants and businesses in London’s West End, said footfall on Thursday was down by 7 per cent from the previous week and down 32 per cent from pre-pandemic figures.

‘With rising Covid cases dampening consumer confidence and a planned Tube strike looming on Saturday, we’re anticipating a muted final weekend of Christmas trading at a time when West End businesses should be enjoying a much needed boost,’ CEO Jace Tyrrell said on Friday.

He joined calls for the government to provide temporary financial support to leisure businesses across the United Kingdom.

Springboard data also showed that visits to high streets across the UK on Thursday morning were down 2.7 per cent on the previous week’s figure, The Guardian reported.

Visits to shopping centres also plunged by 2.6 per cent while it also recorded a 21.3 per cent drop across London, where Omicron cases have surged over the past week.

British retail sales rose faster than expected last month, helped by Black Friday discounts, early Christmas shopping and no lockdown restrictions that closed many shops last year, official figures showed on Friday.

Springboard data also showed that visits to high streets across the UK on Thursday morning were down 2.7 per cent on the previous week’s figure. Pictured: Shoppers in Exeter city centre on Saturday morning

Visits to shopping centres also plunged by 2.6 per cent while it also recorded a 21.3 per cent drop across London, where Omicron cases have surged over the past week. Pictured: Shoppers in Exeter city centre on Saturday morning

A man was seen collecting money for charity at a Christmas market in Bristol on Saturday as shoppers walked by 

Shoppers are seen in Leeds city centre on what is normally the busiest day for Christmas shopping on Saturday

Huge crowds headed into Newcastle city centre on Saturday despite growing fears about the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant 

Huge crowds packed out the streets of Newcastle on Saturday, as people geared up for Christmas 

Retailers are waiting anxiously to see what impact Covid will have on the vital shopping period. Pictured: Shoppers in Leeds city centre on Saturday

Shoppers were seen laden with bags as they walked through a Christmas market, selling clothes and other gifts, in Bristol on Saturday

One Briton was laden with shopping bags as she headed out to Liverpool city centre on Saturday

Huge crowds fill The Shambles in York on the final Saturday shopping day before Christmas 

Crowds of shoppers were seen hitting the high street in Liverpool on the last weekend before Christmas

Although footfall was predicted to fall this weekend, groups of shoppers were still seen heading out to do their festive shopping in Exeter on Saturday

Retailers are waiting to see the impact the new Omicron strain has on trading into the run up to Christmas, normally the busiest time of year. Pictured: Quiet street in Exeter city centre on Saturday morning

Shoppers visit the Exeter city centre in Devon on Saturday morning as they make the most out of the last weekend before Christmas

Despite footfall being lower than normal in the lead up to Christmas, shoppers packed out Canterbury’s city centre on Saturday

Some stores have started their Boxing Day sales early this year amid Boxing Day Sales. Pictured: Shoppers on Oxford street in London on Saturday


Crowds of Britons were seen hitting the high street in Liverpool on Saturday, laden with shopping bags from Primark, L’Occitane and other popular stores

Omicron has heightened fears over Christmas trading. Pictured: Quiet high street in Liverpool on Saturday

Shoppers are seen in Leeds city centre on what is normally the busiest day for Christmas shopping

Cabot Circus in Bristol was still busy on Saturday morning, as Christmas decorations bought a festive touch to people’s shopping

People were eager to get to the Christmas markets in Bristol on Saturday morning, making the most of the last weekend before Christmas

However, Omicron has heightened fears over Christmas trading.

On Wednesday, consumer electrical retailer Currys said its market had softened in recent weeks, while on Thursday online fashion retailer Boohoo warned on annual profit. 

Meanwhile, Harrods kicked off its famous Boxing Day sale 10 days early so that customers can shop ‘wherever they are’, Harrods said.

The sale will run throughout the festive season and into January. 

The drop in foreign tourists has also hit Knightsbridge-based Harrods, which relies on wealthy shoppers from China, the Middle East and the US for much of its sales.

The seven-storey building has around one million square feet of floorspace. 

Although it is beginning far ahead of the usual Boxing Day event, the store plans to cut prices further and release additional deals on December 26.

Harrods will still be open for in-person shoppers – and said the safety of customers and staff was still its ‘top priority’.

Shoppers were seen laden with bags as they walked past Christmas stalls, selling clothes and other gifts, in Bristol on Saturday

Thousands of Christmas shoppers flocked to London’s West End on Saturday, despite record levels of Covid-19 infections in the UK

Huge crowds pack onto Northumberland Street in Newcastle on the final Saturday shopping day before Christmas

Shoppers in Liverpool on the last Saturday before Christmas, as retailers fear that the Omicron strain will affect trading

Shoppers headed out to do their Christmas shopping on Saturday, despite fears of the Omicron strain of Covid spreading

Liverpool was quieter than normal on the last weekend before Christmas

Meanwhile, Harrods kicked off its famous Boxing Day sale 10 days early so that customers can shop ‘wherever they are’. Pictured: Shoppers in Exeter city centre on Saturday

Omicron has heightened fears over Christmas trading. Pictured: People visit Exeter city centre in Devon on Saturday

Groups of shoppers enjoy festive markets and stalls in Exeter city centre in Devon on the last weekend before Christmas

As the new Covid-19 Omicron variant becomes more widespread it doesn’t seem to have deterred people from staying away from Oxford Street (pictured)

Crowds flocked to Oxford Street in London on Saturday as they did their last-minute Christmas shopping

Shoppers in Bristol walked past Christmas markets as they got into the festive spirit on Saturday

Despite fears of the Omicron variant, shoppers were still keen to head into Leeds city centre on Saturday ahead of Christmas

People out shopping in Canterbury city centre on the last Saturday shopping day before Christmas

Harrods managing director Michael Ward said: ‘As we enter this important moment in the trading calendar, we are delighted to give our customers the festive treat of the Harrods winter sale to enjoy wherever they are, be that at our iconic Knightsbridge store, online or through our remote shopping services.

Mr Ward added: ‘Harrods has never been afraid of adapting to suit the changing needs of our customers, and we hope that bringing our sale forwards will give our clients all over the world an opportunity to enjoy the magic of Harrods at Christmas for longer.’

Harrods was founded in 1849 by Charles Henry Harrod – who wanted to capitalise on trade created by the Great Exhibition of 1851 in nearby Hyde Park.

Its customers have included Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Vivien Leigh and Noel Coward – as well as numerous royals.

It has been owned by the Qataris since 2010, when the country’s sovereign wealth fund snapped it up for £1.5bn. 

Britain first expressed concern about the Omicron variant on November 25 and last week, the Prime Minister imposed tougher Covid restrictions in England, ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use vaccine passes to slow the spread.  

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