English high streets were quiet on Tuesday after an initial surge as nonessential retailers reopened a day earlier
Manchester, the usually bustling northern city that’s home to two of the world’s largest soccer teams and such influential bands as Oasis, the Smiths and New Order, felt like a ghost town on Tuesday despite England’s taking its biggest step yet out of lockdown a day earlier.
But for those who hit the shops, it brought a welcome taste of freedom. Retired teacher Alison Thompson said it felt like “being released from prison,” and that she previously felt like “cheering” when McDonald’s
drive-throughs reopened in May.
Hopes of a robust economic recovery for the U.K. are pinned on consumers feeling confident enough to return to shops, but figures charting footfall — or how many people enter a shopping area — showed most shoppers stayed at home.
Tuesday’s footfall was 35.4% higher than a week earlier on U.K. high streets, but still down 55.3% from the same day a year earlier, according to data firm Springboard.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in May that nonessential retailers would be allowed to reopen on June 15 after almost three months of closure, visiting a mall in east London on Sunday to urge Brits to shop.
“I think people should shop, and shop with confidence, but they should, of course, observe the rules on social distancing,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., figures released on Tuesday showed retail sales jumping 17.7% in May, rebounding from a 14.7% fall in April and fueling hopes of a quick recovery as states across the country lift lockdowns.
English stores looked markedly different: Shop floors were decked in social-distancing markings, fitting rooms were cordoned off, some mandated hand sanitizer on entry, and cashiers were shielded behind clear plastic screens.
Around 100 people waited in the rain for Selfridges to open, but when it did the queue quickly disappeared. The only sound inside was from the custom playlist, occasionally interrupted with an alert urging shoppers to maintain social distancing.
Discount retailer Primark, owned by Associated British Foods
saw a long line throughout the day, but its three stores were surprisingly quiet. It is thought to be busier than rivals as its clothes aren’t sold online, but a cap on in-store shoppers had inflated the queue, and there was little risk of bumping into fellow customers inside.
In the almost deserted Lowry designer outlet mall outside Manchester city center, an assistant in the Clarks shoe shop was happy to be back in work. She said it was surprisingly quiet and she had mostly waited on children whose feet had grown during lockdown. But with gloves, a mask and a visor during fittings, the children couldn’t tell if they were at a shoe shop or the dentist, she added.
Thompson said she doesn’t shop online as she likes to see clothes in person. The first stop on her trip was the U.K.’s biggest clothing retailer, Marks & Spencer
where she bought several new outfits for her return to tutoring.
“For me it’s a sheer release, being able to walk around a shop that isn’t a supermarket, and to be able to treat myself a bit. It’s the second day in a row that I’ve been shopping — I’ll keep having a look round,” she said.
The next big step out of coronavirus lockdown in England could see the hospitality industry, including pubs, restaurants and barbershops, reopen on July 4.
A spokesperson for Selfridges said: “We have been pleasantly surprised by the response since we reopened our doors, and it is great to see some of our regular customers. We are, of course, conscious this is early days, but so far the reopening has exceeded our expectations.”
A Clarks spokesperson said: “We are taking the health and safety of employees and customers extremely seriously and are fully committed to safeguarding their well-being when our stores reopen.”
The Lowry and Urban Outfitters were asked to comment, and Primark declined to comment.