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UK retailers offload Christmas trees for £1 or less as shoppers stay away | Retail industry

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Major retailers are having to offload Christmas trees for £1 or less after shoppers shied away from UK high streets and retail centres in the last weekend before Christmas.

B&Q has cut the price of its fresh trees – some costing £49 or more – to £1 or less at stores around the country. One shopper posted a picture on social media of trees priced as little as 10p in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Homebase, which had already cut the price of all its fresh trees to £10 about a week ago, slashed prices to £5, while in some stores they were only £3.50.

Industry insiders said some of the major chains appeared to have overbought trees in reaction to last year when many sold out about two weeks early.

The Garden Centre Association said its members had mainly been cautious and so had mostly almost sold out. Iain Wylie, the chief executive, said Christmas trade in some areas had been affected by concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and anyone with too many trees would need to discount heavily now to clear them.

“You can’t just leave them – they are not worth a penny after Christmas,” he said.

Tree sellers may not be the only retailers with too much stock, as central London and other city centres were hit particularly hard by the decline in visitors on the peak shopping weekend of the year, according to the latest data from the shopper counting service Springboard, which recorded a 2.6% fall in visitors across UK shopping centres, high streets and retail parks compared with the previous week.

Analysts said there was “growing nervousness” among consumers caused by the rapid rise in Omicron cases.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s insights director, said a rise in the number of shoppers out and about at the beginning of last week had “dwindled with each day that passed”. Shopper numbers across the UK fell on Sunday compared with the same day in the previous week, an almost unheard-of pattern at a time of year when shoppers are usually flocking to high streets in preparation for the festivities.

Overall, footfall across UK retail destinations rose by 5.5% from the week before but was 19% lower than the same week in 2019.

“The nervousness of shoppers about making in-person shopping visits inevitably meant that large city centres lost out to smaller high streets, particularly over the weekend, when footfall declined from the week before in central London and large cities outside of the capital while rising in market towns,” she said.

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The New West End Company, which represents hundreds of businesses operating on Oxford Street and other central London shopping streets, said visitor numbers over the weekend were down 5% on the previous week.

Its chief executive, Jace Tyrrell, called on the government to “provide urgent and swift financial support” such as 100% business rates relief for the first quarter of 2022 and grants to prevent business closures.

“West End retail and hospitality businesses will have been disappointed with the turnout on the critical final weekend of Christmas trading, with footfall down by 17% from pre-pandemic levels. With less than five days to go until Christmas Day and the probabilities of a circuit-breaker lockdown increasingly on the horizon, the retail and leisure sector is now facing a huge amount of financial uncertainty when it should be enjoying a much-needed shot in the arm,” he said.

Homebase said: “From tomorrow, all real cut trees will be reduced to £5, giving every tree the chance to have a home this Christmas.”

B&Q was approached for comment.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/dec/20/uk-high-streets-hit-by-dip-in-footfall-over-key-christmas-weekend-omicron