LONDON — For British consumers, it appears that the heightened threat of terrorist strikes isn’t enough to prevent them from keeping calm and going about their shopping habits.
On Friday, the British government raised the country’s threat level from international terrorism to “severe,” from “substantial,” meaning that the threat of a terrorist attack went from being “a strong possibility,” to “highly likely.” The new level came in the wake of continued unrest in the Middle East, including the threat from the militant group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. It is the first time in three years that the threat level has been set as high as “severe” in the U.K., and Britain’s prime minister David Cameron said in a speech Friday that the threat was in part from individuals who “travel from Britain to Syria and Iraq, [take] part in terrorist acts and now come back to threaten our security here at home.”
So far, that raised threat appears to have had little impact on shoppers. Peter Luff, president of Ipsos Retail Performance, which monitors U.K. footfall, said that since the raised terror alert Friday “there have been no significant changes in trends to suggest a major impact,” he said, though he noted that retail footfall in the U.K. was slightly down compared to the previous year. “Whilst it is still early days, it will be worth keeping an eye on changes in overseas visitor numbers. This will indicate how sensitive British retail is in the current political climate,” Luff said.
Department store Liberty on Regent Street was unaffected by the heightened risk. A spokeswoman for the store said that its footfall over the weekend was up 14 percent compared to the same weekend last year. But she noted that, overall, traffic on Regent Street was down 0.2 percent compared to the same period last year, and that footfall in the West End of London dipped 10.9 percent compared to the previous year, citing figures that the New West End Co., which represents retailers on Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, provides for its members.
Richard Dickinson, chief executive officer of the New West End Co., said that there had been “no discernible impact on visitor numbers caused by recent international events.
“International visitors…continue to favor London as a travel destination, and while they are here the majority continue to shop in Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street,” he said. “The West End is one of the best policed areas in the U.K. and the major retailers and other businesses in the area work closely with the Metropolitan Police and other agencies to plan for all eventualities.”
On Monday afternoon, retail traffic was brisk around Oxford Street and Regent Street. Public transportation in the center of London was also busy Monday, despite a hoax message that circulated on social media over the weekend indicating that a terrorist strike on the London Underground was imminent. British Transport Police confirmed on Twitter Sunday that the rumor was a hoax, with “no specific threat” to the subway network.
The British Council of Shopping Centers said that it had communicated the change in the U.K.’s terror threat to shopping center owners and managers within its membership on Friday, and had “updated our security guidelines to reflect this revised position.” Michael Green, ceo of the BCSC, said: “Shopping malls adopt a variety of tactics in order to make these spaces safe and secure and center managers work closely and successfully with local authorities and the police to ensure vigilance.”
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