Hundreds of shops are busily preparing for a stampede of customers on Monday when they fling open their doors for the first time since lockdown.
Non-essential stores in England will roll up the shutters next week after Boris Johnson announced the next phase of lockdown loosening to inject some life back into the nation’s struggling high streets.
Staff at some of the best-loved brands were today pictured plastering shop floors with social distancing markings and wiping down windows.
Oxford Street in central London, which has been eerily sleepy during the crisis, eased back to normality as employees at flagship stores began readying for the flood of shoppers.
Westminster council billboards urging pedestrians to keep two metres apart were stationed on the pavements, which are expected to be rammed next week.
After a punishing lockdown which has hit the retail sector hard – and claimed some high-profile casualties – businesses will be eager to drum up as many sales as possible.
Primark is reopening 153 of its stores, M&S is reopening 25 of its clothing branches – and all clothing spaces in food halls – and JD Sports is reopening all 309 of its outlets.
But retailers are under strict instructions from ministers to enforce rigid social distancing to avoid so-called Manic Monday raising the infection rate.
Stores have braced customers for outside queues during busy times, while also erecting Perspex screens at checkouts.
Many fitting rooms will be off limits, while some services, such as bra fittings, will not restart yet.
Flagship stores on Oxford Street in central London, which has been eerily sleepy during the crisis, were gearing up for a rush of shoppers when they reopen
A man working on a window front at a shop on Oxford Street in London today as stores across the nation prepare to welcome back customers
John Lewis is reopening two of its stores on Monday, including one in Poole, Dorset, and one in Kingston, Surrey (pictured)
A shop worker cleans shelves in the Michael Kors handbag store, Manchester, where non-essential stores are preparing to open in step with the rest of England
Major high street retailers like Primark, M&S and JD Sports are all set to reopen on Monday after the government finally gave the green for shops to reopen as the country eases back to life before
A social distancing sign in Oxford Street in London following the introduction of measures to bring England out of lockdown
Primark’s shop in the Westfield shopping centre in London is reopening next week with protective glass at the tills
Marks and Spencer will also be opening all 25 of its clothing outlet stores in England from Monday, while 260 clothing spaces within M&S stores that also sell food will also reopen
Marks and Spencer has installed Perspex screens at the counters of its stores as a protective measure. Customers will also be reminded about social distancing with signs like these around its stores
Measures include a maximum limit on the number of customers allowed in the store at one time, protective screens at tills and hand-sanitiser at the entrance to the store and near to escalators. Pictured: Customers outside a JD Sports store
Workers have been busy preparing their stores for the reopening of non-essential shops on Oxford Street on Monday
Displays were seen being prepared in the window of clothing retailer Diesel in King Street, Manchester, by a man in his socks
People were having their temperatures taken as they entered the Apple Store on Regent Street in Central London
UK economy shrinks by a fifth during lockdown
The UK economy contracted by more than a fifth in the first full month of lockdown, as shops and factories closed and workers were sent home.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that economic activity was down by 20.4 per cent in April – the largest drop in a single month since records began in 1997, and worse than many experts were forecasting.
The fall massively outstrips the then-record 5.8 per cent drop in March gross domestic product (GDP) that the ONS reported last month.
It means that GDP fell by 10.4 per cent in the three months to April and sets the UK on course for one of its worst quarters in history.
Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey said the drop is generally in line with what his experts had been expecting.
‘Well obviously it’s a dramatic and big number but actually its not a surprising number,’ he told Sky News.
‘We see signs of the economy now beginning to come back into life.’
Further measures include a maximum limit on the number of customers allowed in the store at one time, protective screens at tills and hand-sanitiser at the entrance to the store and near to escalators.
Other major retails to already announce plans to reopen include Currys PC World, which will reopen 131 of its stores from Monday.
The tech retailer says it will initially provide support to customers with current technological issues – creating what they describe as ‘Tech Help Hubs’.
Music retailer HMW will reopen all but 15 of its stores across the UK from Monday, when stores in England and Northern Ireland will reopen.
Its remaining stores, all in Scotland and Wales, will not reopen until it receives further guidance from the government.
Department stores will also look to reopen, including Fenwick, which will reopen all of its stores from Monday, while John Lewis will start with just two, in Kingston, Surrey, and Poole, Dorset.
A further 11 stores in Cambridge, Norwich, Bluewater, Cheadle, Cheltenham, High Wycombe, Horsham, Nottingham, Solihull, Welwyn and Ipswich will reopen three days later.
Sports Direct said about 500 of its stores would start trading from Monday, while high-end department store Selfridges will also reopen.
House of Fraser is one of the major chains not to be reopening its stores on Monday, but will do so ‘towards the end of the week’.
It comes as today shopping centres in Northern Ireland reopened after being given the green light from the Northern Ireland Executive.
One way systems have been put in place to help shoppers maintain social distancing while walking around the centres and in stores.
In England, the government confirmed last night that all non-essential retailers will be allowed to reopen on Monday.
But shops will only legally be allowed to reopen if they are ‘Covid-secure’.
The government has warned it will fine shops owners up to £1,000 if they have not carried out adequate risk assessments.
In Belfast, a woman was seen waiting to enter a shop as the shutters were lifted ahead of the relaxation of lockdown restrictions on Monday
In Manchester, workers were pictured preparing the interior of a clothing retailer ahead of the Monday reopening
A Calvin Klein outlet in Belfast was seen with boxes littering the floor as a shop assistant stuck posters to the glass doors, advertising to customers that it would be open on Friday
Popular cosmetics retailer Lush is set to reopen on Monday. The above outlet, in Chichester, Sussex, displayed its reopening date in its window
Workers were checking the temperatures of customers in the Apple Sotre in Regent Street ahead of a potential swathe of extra customers on Monday
A shop worker displays watches in the Mappin and Webb jewellery store in Manchester
A shop on Oxford Street shows social distance signage and a one way system ahead of reopening of Monday
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, and Chair of John Lewis, Sharon White, during his visit to a John Lewis department store in London this week
Shop workers shift rails of clothes across Oxford Street ahead of Monday’s reopening
This graphic shows some of the changes that may be made to ensure reopening stores can minimise the spread of the virus
Experts have warned that two meters may not be enough to keep shoppers safe in stores
Shoppers were seen queuing in Belfast to get into a Dunnes Stores clothing shop on Friday
Shoppers were also seen carrying bags of goods after leaving a Dunnes Stores outlet in Belfast
A very quiet street was also pictured in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, ahead of the relaxation of lockdown restrictions on MOnday
This Marks & Spencer outlet was advertising 50 per cent sales ahead of its reopening on Monday
Many retailers are hoping to see a major business boost when they are allowed to reopen. Pictured: A deserted Peterborough high street on Friday
But the British Retail Consortium, the trade organisation which represents the retail industry, expects a ‘substantial proportion’ of big shops to reopen on Monday, The Times reports.
Also today, the boss of Primark poured cold water on rumours of the ‘sale of the century’ for shoppers when stores reopen, by confirming there will be no sales or promotions on offer for Primark shoppers when its stores reopen next week.
The popular chain has been hit hard during lockdown, as it does not operate an online shopping website and has been forced to shut all its high-street stores.
The number of shoppers being allowed into a Primark store at any one time will be limited, and the company says it has hired ‘additional security staff’ to stem the flow of shoppers entering.
Toilets, fitting rooms and cafes and beauty concession areas, where they are installed, will remain closed, with Primark saying it will keep the situation under review as restrictions are lifted further by the Government.
Shoppers will have to stay two metres apart and will be confronted with markers on the floor and further guidance on social distancing on shop walls.
Primark added: ‘Frequent tannoy announcements are made in store reminding customers to adhere to social distancing measures.’
Outside stores, designated queuing lanes have been established to make sure the flow of shoppers is limited.
Paul Marchant, Primark’s chief executive, said: ‘We have really missed our customers and we are delighted to be back on 15 June and able to provide them with the quality, affordable products they love from Primark.
On Oxford Street, there were very few shoppers but numbers are expected to see a major boost when many shops reopen on Monday
This shuttered souvenir shop on Oxford Street, which appeared to be a victim of the lockdown restrictions, advertised closing down sales of 75 per cent
The front of Debenhams’s flagship store on Oxford Street was also boarded up ahead of the lifting of some lockdownr restrictions on Monday
Oxford Street is one of London’s major shopping hubs but it has been largely deserted since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed
This Sports Direct outlet boasted an enormous social distancing sign at its shuttered entrance on Oxford Street
Outside Selfridges on Oxford Street, workers mopped the pavement ahead of Monday’s boost in visitor numbers
A message in the window of Selfridges read, ‘thank you from everyone at Selfridges’
This Primark store was deserted ahead of the Monday lifting of sales restrictions
Inside, the Primark outlet was fully stocked with a range of clothes as it prepared to welcome shoppers once again
Hand sanitiser and social-distancing stickers could be seen at the entrance of the store as the retailer sought to adhere to official guidelines
Large containers of hand sanitiser fitted with motion sensors have been installed at Primark ahead of Monday
‘While it might take a little longer to get into store, once inside, customers will find all their favourite Primark products and plenty of choice as usual.
‘We have worked hard to make sure that clear signage and extra help will be there to guide them through the changes we have made to allow for social distancing.
‘We are also asking customers to respect the measures we have put in place to help ensure shopping at Primark is an enjoyable, safe experience for everyone.’
Owner Associated British Foods shut all its Primark stores in March in the face of coronavirus, which it said resulted in a loss of around £650million for every month that all stores were closed.
It said that it cut more than 50 per cent off overheads at Primark in a bid to stabilise its finances during the pandemic.
Primark, which furloughed 68,000 staff across Europe during the pandemic, has already opened most of its shops across the continent.
A sign also warned the prospective shoppers that some areas of the store may be closed
Earlier this month, Primark said its buying team had done a review of its spring-summer stock and had earmarked ‘certain products’ to be held in storage to be sold next summer, ‘without the need for special discounting beyond our normal practices’.
It said: ‘We will continue our policy of offering the best everyday low prices and will seek to avoid any markdown on excess stock.’
The company, which has faced criticism over order cancellations with suppliers in Asia, last month said its inventory had reached £1.5billion and that it expected to take a £284million hit from stock languishing in its warehouses.
With swathes of the high-street reopening next week, it remains to be seen the extent to which shoppers will be willing to put up with social distancing measures in stores, with many already tired of queuing for supermarkets, pharmacies and popular DIY chains.
Echoing these concerns, Primark said that ‘as long as social distancing is required, we expect it to restrict the capacity of our busiest stores from achieving their aggregate pre-Covid-19 sales’.