A 'wonderful morning' for British shoppers as lockdown ends with a bang

Chilly temperatures fail to deter crowds as stores reopened and consumer confidence rides high

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Britons flocked to the high street to take advantage of shops and restaurants reopening on Monday as surveys reported consumer confidence at its highest level in nearly three years.

Customers braved chilly temperatures to queue outside their favourite shops as they waited for department stores and boutiques in England and Wales to open for the first time in more than three months.

Consumer sentiment in the UK rose to 108.5, the highest level since August 2018, according to data from YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

Paul Marchant, chief executive of budget retailer Primark, which has 161 shops across the UK, told The National that the retailer had enjoyed "a wonderful morning … welcoming our customers back".

Shoppers lined up outside Primark as well as luxury department store Selfridge’s on London’s Oxford Street from about 6am, while about 1,000 customers lined up at Ikea in Bristol before its reopening.

“As expected, stores have been very busy but we're more than ready and very confident in the safety measures we have in place, " Mr Marchant said. "The mood has been incredibly upbeat and positive.”

People walk at Oxford Street, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions ease, in London, Britain April 12, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
People walk at Oxford Street, as the coronavirus restrictions ease. Reuters

Mr Marchant said the company’s spring/summer ranges “are proving popular as customers finally get to shop for the latest trends”.

Alison Grainger, Marks & Spencer’s head of clothing and home, said the retail chain has also stocked its stores with “tiered dresses, pretty tops and new seasonal denim” to meet demand.

“We know lots of customers are excited about dressing up for picnics and alfresco dining with friends & family,” she said.

"While it’s no longer all just about loungewear, as you would expect we’re going to be dedicating more space to casualwear in our shops than pre-pandemic."

By midday on Monday, footfall across all UK shopping destinations was up 100 per cent compared with a week ago and 350 per cent higher than 2020, according to data from Springboard.

Retail parks, such as Bicester Village, a popular outlet shopping destination, were the preferred choice for shoppers, with footfall up 12.6 per cent at 10am compared with 2019 levels.

People sit in a restaurant on the roof of the Selfridges department store on Oxford street, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions ease, in London, Britain April 12, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
People sit in a restaurant on the roof of the Selfridges department store on Oxford street, as the coronavirus restrictions ease in the UK. Reuters

Meanwhile, the YouGov/CEBR analysis showed that consumer confidence has risen steadily since Prime Minister Boris Johnson first unveiled his roadmap out of lockdown in February.

In March, Britain’s consumer confidence score increased by 2.1 points to 108.5, with any score above 100 indicating that more consumers are confident than not.

Rising business activity and optimism about household finances and provided the biggest boosts to the score.

The British Retail Consortium said businesses have spent millions of pounds to make shops Covid-secure, with Marks & Spencer, for example, installing a greeter at the door, John Lewis offering customer services hosts and Ikea putting in place staggered entry.

Marks & Spencer said changes in its stores from Monday help customers shop faster and in as socially distanced a manner as possible.

The retailer said it has seen a 200 per cent increase in downloads of its app and over one million transactions via its Mobile Pay Go digital shopping option, something it expects to continue.

Sacha Berendji, operations and property director at M&S, said the pandemic has “accelerated” trends and patterns it was seeing pre-crisis, causing it to transform its shopping experience for customers.

Shoppers can use the store app to scan their purchases and pay through their phone, while nearly 100 M&S cafes will be available for takeaway with 14 also available for dine-out eating outside.

Hospitality venues, including restaurants, cafes, museums, zoos and theme parks also welcomed customers back on Monday, as well as gyms, beauty salons, spas and swimming pools.

Julian Metcalf, chief executive of the sushi chain Itsu, told the BBC he was hopeful demand would pick up as people returned to the high street, but admitted he felt “a bit nervous”.

England's hospitality sector will receive a £314 million ($430.5m) boost in the first week after the reopening of the country's restaurants, cafes and pubs, according to the Cebr.

Before the pandemic, hospitality was the third largest employer in the country, providing jobs for 3.2 million people and creating £130bn in economic activity, UK Hospitality said.

“Reopening of pubs and other hospitality businesses outdoors is a step forward for the full reopening of our sector. Safety of our staff and customers remains our top priority,” the trade body said.

The Lord Mayor of London William Russell gets his hair cut by Ali Baltar, owner of the Grooming Lounge in the City of London, Monday, April 12, 2021. Millions of people in England will get their first chance in months for haircuts, casual shopping and restaurant meals on Monday, as the government takes the next step on its lockdown-lifting road map. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
The Lord Mayor of London William Russell gets his hair cut by Ali Baltar, owner of the Grooming Lounge in the City of London on Monday. Associated Press

Britain's economy is set to bounce back sharply from the surge in business activity, with a study from Deloitte finding that chief financial officers are more optimistic now than at any point in the past 13 years.

The Federation of Small Businesses found that more than half of firms expect revenue to rise over the next three months.

However, 40 per cent of Britons expect life to return to normal in the next year, according to a new study from the World Economic Forum and IPSOS, compared with 60 per cent globally.

While shops are planning to stay open for longer, it is unclear if the surge in demand on Monday morning will last long enough to help retailers recoup their lost earnings.

To ensure the recovery stays on track, Britons will need to spend the huge pile of savings they have built up in their bank accounts during the three lockdowns, with major banks calculating the figure to be as high as £170bn – a stimulus package worth almost 8 per cent of pre-pandemic gross domestic product.

Meanwhile, buyers heading to car showrooms for the first time since January 5, will be welcomed with a wider range of clean vehicles than ever before, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

There are now 152 "clean" car models available out of a total of 462, said the SMMT, a choice that could help the sector recover the £22.2bn in lost turnover during the pandemic.

However, a full recovery by the end of the year remains highly challenging for the sector, with new car registrations during the first quarter of this year down 37 per cent on the average for 2010-2019.

For levels to return to normal by the end of the year, keys to a new car would need to be handed over every 12 seconds.

“With the widest and greenest choice of cars ever seen, unleashing pent up consumer demand can accelerate the industry’s recovery and that of the economy,” said Mike Hawes of SMMT.