Weekend shoppers top pre-pandemic levels before restrictions return

Christmas shoppers made up for last year by flocking to popular retail destinations the weekend before the government’s Plan B announcement – but WFH guidance had an immediate effect from Thursday, according to new, anonymised crowd movement data based on connections to the O2 mobile phone network last week (4th-10th December).*

The weekend before last saw crowd volumes outstrip pre-pandemic levels around shopping hot spots Westfield London (White City), and Bluewater (Kent) – just days before new restrictions were announced last week. The anonymised, aggregated data from O2 Motion showed crowd volumes topped 16,000 around Bluewater on Sunday 5th December, compared to just under 15,000 on a comparative Sunday in February 2020.

However, the impact of the Government’s Plan B announcement was immediate, following the Prime Minister’s press conference on the evening of Wednesday 8th December. While the guidance for people to work from home wherever possible only came into effect on Monday 13 December, the drop in crowds in busy commuter areas was obvious from Thursday last week. Journeys into the City of London last Thursday were down around 10% compared to early November (around 197,000 journeys on 9th December compared to just over 217,000 on Thursday 11th November).

Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast – where Plan B guidance does not apply – also showed a peak in crowd volumes for the weekend of 4th-5th December. In Edinburgh more than 40,000 journeys were recorded on Saturday 4th December; doubling the 20,000 recorded pre-pandemic in February 2020. Belfast also recorded an increase of around 60%, with an 18% increase in Glasgow.

There were similar scenes around the restaurant hub of Soho, London, as crowd volumes exceeded pre-pandemic levels, with more than 100,000 journeys recorded in the area on the Saturday before the Plan B guidance was announced (4th December). This is an increase of around 30% compared to the 77,000 recorded on a Saturday in February 2020.

Chris Wroe, Head of Data and Analytics at Virgin Media O2, said: “Crowd movement patterns in busy places have a major impact on the local area – from shops, bars and restaurants right through to transport and public services. This is why big data like our anonymised, aggregated O2 Motion insights are so valuable: helping paint a picture of these changes as they happen, so decision makers can plan their response.”

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