For months shops have stood frozen in time, winter merchandise gathering dust on mannequins. On Monday, however, stores finally unveiled their new looks, and the familiar sounds of chatting shoppers, buskers and clinking cutlery returned to high streets in England and Wales.
The number of people queuing outside Primark – which famously does not have an online store – is testament to its popularity among loyal shoppers.
Queues were reported at branches around England and Wales, from Bournemouth to Sunderland and Cardiff to Ipswich. (Non-essential retailers are expected to reopen in Scotland on 26 April.)
The i newsletter latest news and analysis
In Canterbury, Kent, at least 80 people were queuing at 1pm, when the line snaked along the side of the building around the corner and up the road.
Louise Pomeroy-Dash and her 20-year-old daughter Ellie had been waiting for 10 minutes.
“I’m excited about shops reopening,” Louise said. “The last time we went out shopping was in December.”
Louise, who has had her first vaccination, was there to foot the bill for her daughter’s expedition, she joked.
“I’m not sure what I want – whatever they’ve got,” said Ellie.
“We’ll probably go to H&M and Topshop too, and wherever the queues are shortest.”
A few minutes’ walk away, Ben Warner, 27, was waiting to go in to the British Heart Foundation charity shop.
Mr Warner is a “flipper”, trawling charity shops and vintage stores for merchandise to sell on for a profit online.
“I’ve been looking forward to today,” said Mr Warner, who had already bought two items – an orange Ralph Lauren shirt that he paid £14 for and a New Balance T-shirt which cost him £4.
“I’ve gone to every charity shop and vintage shop that I know.”
Wendy Payne, who travelled from Maidstone, Kent, to meet two friends, appeared to regret her decision to head out on the first day of reopening, despite treating herself at upmarket department store Fenwick.
“Having had this experience today, I won’t be coming again for a while,” said Ms Payne, 75, gesturing to the bustling pedestrianised street.
“Everywhere you go is busy. If we’d have been sensible we’d have realised that and not come out today.”
However, added Ms Payne, who dressed up for the occasion in a bright pink coat and matching fedora: “It has been nice to go out and be amongst people – that’s the main thing.”
In some parts of England and Wales police were brought in to patrol the streets and spaces outside shopping centres.
Police in Manchester were seen assisting security guards and staff with crowd control outside the Arndale centre, and in Port Talbot, Aberafan Shopping Centre announced it had been working with the authorities to make sure visitors complied with social distancing rules.
Natalie Kheder manages a Cancer Research UK shop in Hull. She said Monday was one of the shop’s “most successful days ever”.
“There have been people queueing all day, we’ve received bags of stuff and we even had a £750 cash donation,” Ms Kheder said.
“Usually we probably wouldn’t have as many younger people but we’ve had a complete mix of people of all ages in today,” she continued.
“Clothes are selling well, especially spring and summer clothes and kids’ clothes. People’s baskets have been overflowing, one person got a whole new wardrobe.
“Before lockdown we were using one till, now we’re using three. I’m really excited for the rest of the week – if it stays like this it will be unreal.”
Footfall across all UK retail destinations to 5pm rocketed by 146 per cent compared to the same day last week, when only essential shops were open, according to tracking by the data firm Springboard.
Shopping centres were the biggest winners, with footfall up 217 per cent from last Monday, while high street footfall swelled by 174 per cent.
The number of visitors to retail parks increased only marginally, by 10 per cent, as people who might have previously travelled there to window shop gravitated to town and city centres.
The East Midlands experienced the biggest growth of all – footfall here was up 204 per cent – while numbers in central London, which is largely dependent on foreign tourists, rose by the comparatively lower 178 per cent.
Over the course of the morning, Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and Mayfair – some of London’s most popular shopping destinations – attracted only 44 per cent of their usual April visitor numbers, though this was slightly more than expected.
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses in the area, said it was “encouraging” to see British shoppers out in force but that West End retailers would continue to require Government support until international visitors return to the capital.
Over the weekend the British Retail Consortium (BRC) appealed to customers heading out to stores this week to be respectful to staff and fellow shoppers. The industry body urged members of the public to wear a face mask unless exempt, maintain social distancing and be considerate when queueing.
“Everyone should be considerate and respectful to their fellow shoppers and hard-working shop staff,” said Helen Dickinson, the BRC chief executive.