SHOPPERS returned to Bournemouth at a greater rate than almost anywhere else in the country as lockdown rules were eased last week, research suggests.

Research by Huq Industries suggests Bournemouth saw the fourth largest rise of any UK town in people going into non-essential stores.

There were 170.6 per cent more visits to non-essential stores than in the previous week, when most visits would have been by staff and click-and-collect customers. That rise put the town behind only Exeter, Ipswich and Nottingham.

The figures chime with those collected for Bournemouth Town Centre Business Improvement District (BID) by the researcher Springboard.

Springboard’s cameras found visits to the shopping areas in the week commencing April 12 were down 18 per cent on pre-pandemic times in 2019.

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Paul Kinvig, the BID’s chief operating officer, said: “It’s really encouraging.

“What’s been great has been the resilience and ingenuity of the shops and businesses in Bournemouth to get ready for this and the way in which they’ve welcomed people back in, whilst maintaining the kind of guidelines that the government have set out.

“Our towns and cities are going to change. It’s inevitable and the nature of the shops in Bournemouth centre will change, but there’s still a real desire among people to reconnect with family, with friends, with the shops and businesses in the town centre.”

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While shops were allowed to open, along with open air eating and drinking, indoor hospitality venues are closed until at least May 17.

Mr Kinvig said the town centre had a “different feel”, with many cafes expanding their seating in pedestrianised roads.

Huq Industries, which uses data from mobile apps to analyse footfall, found overall visits to Bournemouth rose only 13.5 per cent week-on-week, among the smallest 10 increases in the country, yet non-essential retail benefited disproportionately.

Huq chief executive Conrad Poulson said the data showed that “footfall and economic activity are not always the same thing”.

“Many of the towns and cities that are seeing people moving around in increasing numbers aren’t necessarily seeing an increase in retail activity. Retail behaviours are shifting with the growth in e-commerce and it’s becoming harder than ever to turn a town centre visitor into a shopper,” he said.

“It’s also not hugely surprising that people are using their local high streets rather than rushing into major urban centres to enjoy the fresh air and do their shopping. Many are still wary of public transport, which is the usual way many would travel to the big centralised shopping areas.”