Shoppers surge back to high streets as Covid lockdown eases in England

covid queuing

Shoppers have surged back onto high streets across England and Wales as fashion stores, toy shops, hairdressers and other nonessential retailers reopened their doors for the first time in more than three months.

The number of people in shopping destinations by 3pm on Monday was more than doublethe level of the previous Monday and only just over a quarter lower than 2019 levels, according to analysts at Springboard.

Spending in England was up 500% in hairdressing salons and nearly tripled in shops in the morning, compared with a typical Monday before the pandemic, according to the financial app Revolut.

Pubs got off to a slower start, but takings were still up 150% on normal, pre-pandemic levels just before lunch, with the biggest surges in Romford and Chester.

With snow flurries in some places and cold weather across the country, Springboard said shopping centres reported the biggest rise in footfall, followed by high streets. There was less of an increase at retail parks because many have supermarkets and DIY, stores, which have been able to trade throughout lockdown.

Shoppers started queueing before 7am outside some Primark stores, which were among the first to open in England and Wales, as well as at sports shops and the Zara and TK Maxx chains.

Paul Marchant, chief executive of Primark, said: “As expected, stores have been very busy, but we’re more than ready and very confident in the safety measures we have in place. The mood has been incredibly upbeat and positive.”

The crowds spurred hopes of a spending spree fuelled by £180bn of lockdown savings put aside by British consumers after months without nights out, holidays or – for many – a commute to work.

About 40 people queued outside Primark on Oxford Street in central London before its opening despite icy weather, but they were outnumbered by far longer queues, mostly of young men, waiting outside JD Sports, Footlocker and Nike Town hoping to buy sought-after trainers which they could then sell online.

Several of these early-morning shoppers told Business Matters they had been swapping tips on where to go to find the best stock via vast WhatsApp groups of trainer traders.

Diyar Cicek, 19, standing outside JD Sports as flakes of snow fell at 8am, said: “We are trying to make a little cash. No one wakes up at this time otherwise.”

Dillon Chuckisama, 19, the first in line outside Nike Town, said he had been queueing for about two hours and planned to buy up to 10 pairs of trainers that he could sell for about £50 profit per pair via Instagram. Referring to the most sought-after type of trainer, he said: “Jordans bring money and that’s what makes the world go round.”

Trainer fans also made up a large portion of the long queue that had built up outside the department store Selfridges, which was almost entirely encircled by people.

At Primark, shoppers said they had queued for bargains for themselves and relatives. “It’s first come, first served, and we didn’t want to miss out,” said Esther, 15, who had bought some pool sliders and other summer gear from the chain. “Everyone has missed Primark. I don’t buy online,” she said.

Hollie Blu, 24, and her mother, Caroline, who were both carrying several Primark and Marks & Spencer bags, said they had arrived on Oxford Street at 7am, having walked from Elephant and Castle, about three miles away.

They were surprised there were not more queues. “I needed to get out of my house and have somewhere to go. We need something normal,” said Caroline. “But I noticed there’s quite a lot of shops not here. We wanted to got to New Look, but it’s no longer there.”

A number of stores have disappeared – evidence of the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic on clothing retailers. Topshop’s vast flagship store on Oxford Circus was shuttered and Debenhams’ flagship down the road is also permanently closed, making up a run of nearly three blocks of boarded-up shops. Wallis and Evans have also gone.

As well as empty stores as a result of collapsed chains, retailers including Next and River Island have closed Oxford Street outlets, contributing to dozens of gaps on the UK’s most famous high street.

From mid-morning, the streets of St Albans in Hertfordshire were bustling with groups of friends, families and couples.

Deryane Tadd, 48, owner of fashion boutique the Dressing Room, described the “nice buzz” of having customers back inside the store. “On the first day of reopening last June, there was more trepidation and people were more reluctant. Now they seem more positive and confident,” Tadd said.

Three tables of customers were enjoying lunch and drinks outside the Horn pub and music venue, where gazebos had been installed in the garden. The manager, Robbie Thomas, 26, said they were a little busier than he had anticipated because “people are eager to have their first pint back”.

“There are less restrictions than last time we were open, when we had the substantial meal rule and rule of six indoors. It feels easier so far,” Thomas said.

Elsewhere in town, Sarah Pearson and Dawn Donovan were celebrating their long-awaited reunion with espresso martini cocktails outside the Alban’s Well pub. “I went swimming this morning too,” said Pearson. “Life is returning, right?”