LONDON — Retailers here have faced more than their share of transport-related adversity this fall and winter, from President Bush’s traffic-stopping state visit to terrorism fears and threats of yet another subway strike.

On top of all that is the city’s new congestion charge. Introduced in February, the five pound, or $8.65, fee has deterred many consumers from driving into such central London shopping districts as Bond Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Mayfair, the City and Marylebone.

“It’s not even the five pounds, it’s remembering to pay it before you get in the car. Then you have toremember to pay the fine, once you get a ticket,” says Pia Marocco, chief executive of fashion and home accessories brand Allegra Hicks. “Sometimes, it’s just easier to stay out of the zone altogether.”

Combine the new charge with escalating parking meter fees — on Bond Street it costs one pound, or $1.73, for 15 minutes — and shopping becomes one expensive trip.

No one escapes the charge, which operates from Monday to Friday. Drivers send a telephone text message with their personal number code to a central London Transport office or register on-line before entering the zone. Cameras photograph every license plate that enters the zone, and the numbers are immediately checked. Fines start at 80 pounds, or $138, for each day’s violation, and increase to $208 if left unpaid for 28 days.

John Lewis Partnership, the department store group with units inside and outside the zone, has been the most vocal opponent of the charge.

“Contrary to some reports, the congestion charge is having a serious commercial impact on businesses within the charging zone,” said Sir Stuart Hampson, chairman of John Lewis Partnership, in a statement.

He said sales at John Lewis’ Oxford Street store — which is inside the zone — were 9 percent below those of the group’s other stores outside the zone for the six months following the scheme’s introduction.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that shoppers are increasingly opting for the nonzone designer and High Street stores in and around Knightsbridge over their Bond Street and Oxford Street counterparts. “Why on earth would you face the hassle of shopping on Bond Street when you have all the same stores on Sloane Street?” asked one Knightsbridge retailer, who asked not to be named.Indeed, a general move away from city center shopping appears to be a macro trend for retail here. “Suburban shopping in London has improved massively,” said Richard Hyman, chairman of Verdict Research, a retail consultancy. “It’s no longer about shopping in the West End, but at your local downtown shopping center.”

The latest statistics from FootFall, the official provider of London congestion zone figures to the city government, gives a partial picture of the congestion charge’s impact on retail traffic. For the week commencing Dec. 8, footfall in the congestion charge zone was down 14.2 percent, compared with the corresponding week last year. Outside the zone, footfall was down 5.8 percent year-on-year.

David Smyth, marketing manager at FootFall, says the picture will be clearer in February 2004 when the congestion charge will have been in place for a year.

However, he added that in the nine months since the charge was introduced, there has been an 11.1 percent drop in footfall within the zone, compared with a national drop of 1.2 percent. In the six months before the charge was introduced, footfall in the zone was only 0.5 percent down.

However, some brands with outlets inside and outside the zone say they haven’t spotted a difference in sales since the charge was introduced. Part of the explanation rests on the different customers who traditionally shop Sloane Street and Knightsbridge versus Bond Street and Piccadilly. The former tend to appeal to nearby residents and fewer tourists (apart from Harrods and, to some extent, Harvey Nichols), while the latter attract mainly tourists who, of course, tend not to drive around town.

“Our business is very balanced between our locations on Bond Street and in Knightsbridge, yet the mix of customers is very different,” said Joy Frommer, managing director of Burberry Europe. “Our Knightsbridge store is more about the local customer who shops with frequency, whereas in New Bond Street, the customer is more destination-oriented.”

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