Long queues of shoppers snaked outside some stores in England from early in the morning on Monday, with discount fashion retailer Primark proving a big draw as non-essential shops reopened their doors after 83 days of lockdown.
Queues formed outside several branches of Primark, which does not sell online so has not taken a penny in the country for weeks. In Birmingham, home to the world’s biggest Primark, the store opened early as hundreds of people lined up outside.
Department stores, clothing retailers, electrical outlets and bookshops have been closed since March 23 when Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
While outdoor markets and car showrooms reopened on June 1, Monday is the big return to business for retailers, who are desperate to get the tills ringing again.
The reopening only applies to England, with stores in Scotland and Wales waiting for guidance from their devolved administrations on when they can resume trading. Non-essential stores in Northern Ireland reopened on Friday.
Getting shoppers spending again is key to Britain’s recovery after official data on Friday showed the economy shrank by a quarter over March and April. The British Retail Consortium reckons the lockdown has cost non-food stores 1.8 billion pounds ($2.3 billion) a week in lost revenues.
“We need to start working to get the economy back opening again because that’s the best way of restoring livelihoods,” business minister Paul Scully told BBC radio.
STORES LOOK DIFFERENT
Stores look very different, though, as they have to observe social distancing regulations. Shoppers face queues outside, restricted numbers inside and limitations on trying products.
Fitting rooms will be closed, according to government guidance, while goods that are tried-on or returned by customers need to be stored for 48 hours, or cleaned, before being re-displayed on the shop floor.
Some chains are reopening all their English stores, while others are taking a phased approach.
Primark, owned by Associated British Foods (ABF.L), is opening all its 153 stores in England. Marks & Spencer (MKS.L), which has traded online and kept its food halls open, will reopen the majority of its clothing and homeware selling space.
But rivals Next (NXT.L) and John Lewis are opening just 24 and two respectively. See FACTBOX on reopening:
Industry executives remain cautious.
“Without doubt this is going to be one of the most difficult years for retailers ever,” Anne Pitcher, managing director of department store chain Selfridges, told BBC radio.