Retail destinations across England saw footfall numbers soar on the day that non-essential retailers were allowed to reopen stores, with queues forming for the likes of Primark, H&M and Zara.

On the day that non-essential stores across England were allowed to open for the first time since March 25, pent up consumer demand drove a 41.7% surge in footfall across all retail destinations as of midday, according to the latest figures from Springboard.

High streets across England saw the greatest footfall increase, with numbers soaring 51.7% compared to last week. Shopping centres in England today saw a 37% increase in footfall, while retail parks enjoyed a 25.1% increase after being the strongest performing retail destination throughout the lockdown.

Primark Birmingham

Primark’s Birmingham store opened earlier than scheduled in response to massive queues

However, despite the increase, footfall still remains significantly lower year on year across all English retail destinations. Today’s footfall figures were 34.2% down across all retail destinations and 41.92% down across high streets.

Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said: “Footfall in retail parks that are dominated by high street retailers has risen by 41.7% in England, but by only 25.1% on England’s retail parks as a whole, demonstrating that shoppers have switched from homeware stores and food stores to locations with high street retailers such as M&S and Next.”

After months of shuttered stores, the surge in footfall numbers and pictures of long queues of eager shoppers lining up across England are positive signs for retail operators – with value led chains such as Sports Direct, Primark and TK Maxx emerging as early frontrunners in terms of customer appetite.

As shoppers favoured high street locations, shopping centres such as Westfield White City remained quiet when Retail Week visited today. Huge sections of the normally packed shopping destination remained closed with food courts entirely cordoned off.

There were queues, however, outside sportswear retailers JD Sports, Nike, Footlocker and Sports Direct, as well as fashion houses H&M and Zara. Other retailers such as Waterstones and The Entertainer remained relatively empty.

Surprisingly, Primark in Westfield took just minutes to enter but was set up with floor markings ready for snaking queues, as well as multiple social distancing wardens outside the store to guide shoppers. Primark also insisted on each customer using hand sanitiser upon entry. Primark Marble Arch saw limited queues, despite some shoppers reportedly in line from 6.30am. 

Elsewhere, Primark queues have been seen extending down high streets, perhaps indicating that customers are more comfortable returning to more local destinations over central London.

On Twitter, pictures of Primark in Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol and Bromley show large queues of eager shoppers – a good sign for the bricks-and-mortar only retailer, which has suffered losses of £650m per month since lockdown began. Birmingham even opened its doors ahead of the 8am opening time because of demand.

Noticeably, John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Fraser did not reopen on Oxford Street or in Westfield today. John Lewis has only opened its Kingston and Poole branches today, with the intention of using its learnings to open more stores later in the week.

The retailer installed hand sanitising stations and signage encouraging social distancing throughout the store.

John Lewis installed hand sanitising stations and signs encouraging social distancing throughout the Kingston store

Other London department stores such as Selfridges and Fenwick instead opened with celebrations on Oxford Street. Selfridges has a DJ to entertain its waiting customers, festive window displays and a host to welcome shoppers back at the door, while Fenwick has placed balloons at its entrance. 

Further along Oxford Street, Retail Week found the biggest queue at Sports Direct, a sentiment echoed across the country. In Orpington, shoppers queued for the sporting retailer for over an hour, with similar reports on Twitter at stores elsewhere. 

NikeTown also saw a crowd of 400 shoppers jostling for space in its queue prior to its 10am opening time. 

Next has been commended for its safety measures across its store estate, though shoppers have not been quick to return. Queues in Westfield White City, Orpington and Oxford Street were minimal, though the stores featured heavy-duty perspex screens, full-face masks and traffic signs on the floor and at eye level to guide people. Next was also holding a clearance sale –a new move as it very rarely discounts outside of its end of season sales. 

Sale signs could also be seen in shop windows for Zara, H&M, Pandora, Topshop, Marks & Spencer and Urban Outfitters as retailers look to incentivise shoppers and shift excess stock. 

The general consensus from shopworkers on Oxford Street was that stores were not as busy as they expected as shoppers seemed to prioritise trips to local high streets and retail parks over retail destinations.

Dreams chief executive Mike Logue said trading today and over the weekend had been “very encouraging” across its store estate – so much so that he plans to “significantly increase” the number of staff in stores by mid-week to respond to demand.

”This isn’t hugely footfall driven, this is pent up demand and high conversion level. I suspect footfall will be challenging for a while. I think we’ll see much higher conversion over the next few weeks but to be clear, today is not a big footfall-driving moment year on year, but the people that are coming in are ready to buy,” he said.