Shoppers rushed back to high streets and retail parks on Monday as the reopening of car showrooms, markets and some Ikea stores marked the easing of lockdown restrictions in England.
The number of shoppers out and about jumped 31% across all retail destinations by 5pm in England compared with last week’s bank holiday Monday, according to analysts at Springboard. For the UK as a whole, shopper numbers rose 28%.
“It appears that even though only markets and car showrooms have opened today in addition to essential stores, shoppers are heading back into bricks and mortar destinations,” said Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s insights director.
Shoppers flocked to the Swedish furniture chain Ikea, which reopened 19 stores for the first time since March. People queued from 5.30am in some locations with local reports of 1,000 people outside the Warrington store and people waiting several hours to shop in Croydon, south London.
Ikea stores were allowing in only one adult and one child per household and play areas and restaurants remained closed.
A spokeswoman for the chain said: “Whilst customers have experienced long queues at times, these planned measures are in place to ensure everyone’s safety and we’re incredibly grateful to the public in playing their part to help keep everyone safe.
In some stores where we’ve seen strong demand, we’ve taken appropriate decisions to open early for browsing and to temporarily close our car parks to help ease pressure and reduce waiting times.”
Wehrle said the number of shoppers at all retail destinations was still more than 60% down on the same time last year, but people were now willing to venture out. Monday’s shopper numbers were partly lifted by those visiting coastal towns and historic areas to make the most of good weather as well as the gradual reopening of a wider range of shops.
“There is a change of mindset. People are regarding lockdown as not over but in its dying phase,” Wehrle said.
Non-essential retailers have been closed across the UK since 23 March, when the lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus started, but retailers are keen to reopen as trading online has not made up for store closures.
Under new government rules, car showrooms and outdoor markets selling non-food items were allowed to reopen from Monday. Food market stalls in some areas have been able to operate since May, but many owners have chosen not to do so.
While the vast majority of non-essential stores, including clothing, shoe and toy stores, will not reopen until 15 June, a range of other retailers selling products classed as essential such as DIY, furniture and bicycles, have gradually been reopening under lockdown.
Restaurants remained closed.
As shopper numbers increased, so too did the number of people travelling.
Motoring organisations reported a much busier start to the week on roads. An AA spokesman said breakdown callouts on Monday had peaked from 9am, an hour earlier than the pattern during lockdown, indicating the return of a morning rush.
Data from the AA until the end of Sunday showed that the weekend had been the busiest since the start of lockdown, with traffic at around 80% of normal levels, or about 15m cars on the road.
Motor traffic on major roads in London was at just under 80% of normal levels between 7am and 10am, about 3% higher than last week. The partial reopening of primary schools is likely to have added to traffic, despite calls for parents to walk or cycle rather than drive children to school.
The number of passengers using the London Underground on Monday rose by about 20% from last week, according to early data from Transport for London. Tube travel in the morning peak was about 11% of pre-coronavirus levels, with 124,000 journeys between 7am and 10am, compared with 106,000 at the start of the last working week, Tuesday 26 May. Daily totals last week had grown to 8-9% of normal 2019 passenger figures.
Train operators said there was little difference in passenger numbers on Monday, with people still urged to use public transport only for essential travel. Govia Thameslink Railway, the operator of Britain’s biggest commuter network, said there had been a very small increase compared with last week.