MIL-OSI United Kingdom: Oxford city centre remains popular destination despite changing consumer behaviour

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Source: City of Oxford

Oxford City Council data for February 2024 reveals that there were almost 100,000 more visitors to the city centre compared to the same month in 2023. 

The data shows that: 

  • 2.5million people visited in February 2024 compared to only 2.4million in 2023 

  • Saturday remains the busiest day of the week overall, but Friday lunchtime is the busiest time 

  • Tuesday has the longest dwell time  

The Covered Market’s footfall echoes Oxford’s positive trend and continues to be above previous years.  

In the first two months of 2024, the Covered Market had 600,774 visitors compared to 534,714 during the same time last year and 543,161 in 2019. February’s footfall in the market had an 18.12% increase on last year.  

The city’s positive footfall trend bucks the national picture, which had footfall down by 9.3% in February.  

The Council is encouraged by the fact the city centre remains a desirable destination and has been working hard to ensure it continues to evolve and offers the right mix of uses for residents and visitors.  

This is reflected in the City Centre Action Plan which the Council adopted in 2022. The Action Plan outlines ways to strengthen the resilience of the city centre and ensure it remains a vibrant, diverse, and sustainable retail environment, despite national changes in consumer behaviours.  

National shift in consumer behaviour  

Oxford, like the rest of the UK, has experienced changes to consumer behaviour in recent years which have influenced the make-up of the city’s retail offering.  

The food and drink sector has grown substantially, now representing 60% of in-place sales, up from 40% in 2019. In contrast, traditional retail sectors such as clothing and general merchandise have experienced a decrease in in-person sales while maintaining consistency online. 

Online retail continues to evolve and, in 2023, 37% of sales were made online. This dropped slightly from the peak of 40% during the Covid pandemic but remains above the 2019 level of 31%. 

Additionally, recent research found that 80% of shoppers made a decision about their purchases online, regardless of the final purchase point.  

It was anticipated that online sales would dramatically fall after Covid pandemic, but this has not been the case and they are expected to continue to rise. 

This highlights the ongoing challenge and opportunity for traditional retail to include an online offer, enhancing the shopping experience and the opportunity for increased sales.  

With fewer people shopping in person, it also solidifies the Council’s plans to diversify how parts of the city centre are used. The Council is creating more areas for socialising and events, including the upcoming trial of pedestrian-friendly changes to Market Street, and supporting independent shopping experience with the regeneration of the Covered Market. 

Independent retail  

The independent retail sector has also seen a shift as consumers change the way they spend their money. 

Nationally, independents have shown impressive resilience with a 45% growth in sales, contrasted with a 13% decline in national chains.  

This trend is reflected in the popularity of the Covered Market and is a factor in the Council’s commitment to supporting local and independent businesses. 

In 2021, the Council adopted a new Leasing Strategy for the market. The strategy prioritises a need to keep up with changing consumer behaviour and making sure there is the right mix of businesses and spaces available and puts a focus on attracting high-quality specialist, locally owned or independent retailers. 


“Across the country shopping patterns have changed drastically in recent years and high streets across the UK are having to adapt to keep up. I’m proud of the way Oxford has continuously evolved to meet those challenges and that we are bucking national trends in seeing the number of shoppers and visitors to our city centre go up while they go down elsewhere.  

“We are pleased to see the growth in independent retail which is a positive sign of our city’s unique strength and character and I’m sure Oxford will remain a thriving, dynamic city for residents and visitors for years to come. We are working hard to support businesses across the city.” 

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council and Cabinet Member for Inclusive Economy and Partnerships  

MIL OSI United Kingdom