Olympics diary: talking up trade Why has last week’s talk of a Games-led shopping slump in the capital given way to a more optimistic story?


Last week’s story was of Olympic host city business as historically usual, meaning the invasion of the Games causing a fall off in shopping trade as those locals who hadn’t fled cowered in their homes and visitors who might otherwise have come to London for day trips or holidays decided to go elsewhere. But this week has begun with a turnaround tale, in which the “ghost town” has given way to an Olympics-boosted boom town. Is it true and if so why?

Footfall data gathered by retail trade analysts Experian gave scientific weight to last week’s gloomy complaints by West End traders that instead of the bonanza promised by politicians they’d found themselves facing a slump. But the same researchers released figures yesterday showing that things really did perk up as the weekend progressed.

Last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday they had found year-on-year footfall decreases of respectively 3.3%, 2.1% and 4.5%. Saturday was down too (by 2.8%), but it was an exceptionally tempting day for staying home with the telly and Jess, Mo and Greg. And on Sunday the footfall number changed to a positive – up by 4.5% compared with the equivalent August Sunday of 2011 – though, as Experian point out, the temporary relaxation in the Sunday trading laws for larger stores probably had something to do with this.

Experian’s picture of a fall off giving way to a weekend recovery seems in line with the assertion by Richard Dickinson, chief executive of the New West End Company business improvement district (BID), that things picked up in Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street, though it looks pessimistic compared with a claim by Heart of London, the Piccadilly, Haymarket and Shaftesbury Avenue BID, that footfall in its patch of the West End was actually up between last Monday and Thursday by a massive 16.2% compared with the same period last year.

Both BIDs’ claims appeared in a Transport for London press release issued on Monday, complete with very upbeat messages from Boris Johnson and TfL commissioner Peter Hendy. Suggestions that the pre-Games public information campaign encouraging passengers to avoid interchanges key to getting spectators to venues had effectively urged people to avoid London altogether have not been well-received in certain parts of the GLA family.

So a public relations fight back is clearly underway and maybe a West End spending revival is too, though we won’t know for a while whether the talking up is matched by the sales graphs – just because large numbers of people visit areas where they can spend money doesn’t mean they actually do. We might also start to learn about how the Games have affected business in other parts of London, including those located far from the main venues which might, even so, have been affected by road diversions for street events like the marathons and triathlons.

And what about the East End? The assumption of some West End shopkeepers quoted in reports last week was that everyone had taken their disposable income off to Stratford. Yet Experian’s data for East London as a whole has suggested things haven’t been that straightforward. Its year-on-year footfall measure for last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday showed very large falls of 16%, 12.5% and 9.8% – far larger than the drops it found in the West End on the same days.

East London footfall figures too picked up over the weekend, with the reduction only 1.1% on Saturday and, again like the West End, going up on Sunday, in its case by 4.3%. Those weekday stats look particularly alarming, and might be seen as oddly so given that the huge Westfield shopping centre in Stratford hadn’t even opened a year ago. At the same time, the Sunday footfall hike initially looks odd given that Westfield was closed to the general public over the weekend, due to the extra large amounts of Olympics spectators. That said, there is a bit more to the East End than just its biggest shopping mall. Quite a bit more, actually. Again, the fuller picture that should eventually emerge could be revealing.

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