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Footfall down on last year as English shops reopen after lockdown

England’s high streets came out of lockdown on Wednesday but nonessential retailers hoping to kickstart the Christmas season with bumper trade on a day billed as “Wild Wednesday” instead saw shoppers return only slowly.

The number of shoppers at English retail parks, shopping centres and high streets on Wednesday was up 87% on the same day of the previous week, as department and fashion stores reopened. But the crowds were down 26% on the same day last year, according to analysts at Springboard, while Barclaycard said spending levels were below last week’s Black Friday levels.

Initial figures showed that retail parks and market towns had the biggest increases in customer numbers.

There were reports of queues outside Primark shops in cities such as Newcastle and Birmingham before they opened at 7am, although at the Oxford Street branch in London there were only about 20 masked people waiting outside.

A bigger queue, of more than 100 people, formed outside Debenhams before it opened at 10am, as shoppers hoped for big discounts. The department store announced on Tuesday that it would be winding down, with all outlets expected to permanently close early next year after a clearance sale to get rid of stock.

There were queues at most tills and outside the door later in the morning as the store was forced to limit customer numbers to maintain social distancing. Several shoppers said they had turned up in person after encountering hefty queues to get on to the Debenhams website, even though the big price cuts have yet to start.

Dimple Sheth, 25, said: “It’s a pretty sad day. Thousands of people are about to lose their jobs but everyone has come because there’s a sale. I do go to Debenhams quite a bit but the pandemic has hurt it.”

Anthony Murtagh, 36, said: “I’m only here for two things. I’m hoping for bargains and if there aren’t any I’m going to be straight out of here. I feel like a vulture even going into Debenhams but if you try to go on to the website it takes 45 minutes to even get on. ”

On a quiet Oxford Street, the earliest and highest-spending shoppers, judging by the number of bags they were carrying, were young people snapping up sought-after trainers at sports stores including NikeTown, JD Sports and Foot Locker.

Groups of under-25s, many using electric scooters, ranged up and down the street looking for good deals on footwear, with several hoping to sell the shoes online later. They said stores had rare stock that was difficult to access online where it would quickly sell out.



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