Thousands of non-essential stores have reopened as England’s second national lockdown came to an end.
Shoppers have reportedly been queuing early outside shops in London’s Oxford Street on what has been dubbed “Wild Wednesday”.
Business leaders hope customers will return to their local stores in the final weeks before Christmas as lockdown ended on December 2.
In its place, much of England is under Tier 2 and 3 of the new Covid-19 restrictions which limits social contact between households, but allows non-essential shops to reopen.
In preparation, retailers have made their buildings safe for customers while some have organised festive events to entice shoppers.
As before, when shops reopened following the first lockdown, many have implemented measures to limit the number of people entering shops, as well as enforcing social distancing rules, setting up hand sanitiser stations and carrying out more frequent deep cleaning.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Thousands of retailers are looking forward to welcoming back customers.
“Safety remains the biggest priority for retailers, who have spent hundreds of millions to make stores Covid-secure.
“With billions in sales lost during lockdown, stores are looking to offer a safe and enjoyable shopping experience to bring back customers.
“Christmas is around the corner so everyone has a reason to be visiting their local shops.
“Every purchase we make is a retailer helped, a job protected and a local community supported.”
Debenhams experienced a surge in visits to its website on Tuesday evening “to unprecedented levels” as it urged customers to be patient while it deals with demand.
It comes amid a high street bloodbath, with the jobs of around 25,000 staff at Arcadia and Debenhams hanging in the balance.
Some 13,000 staff at Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group face an anxious wait following the business collapsing into administration, and Debenhams, which is already in administration, said it would start a liquidation process after JD Sports confirmed it had pulled out of a possible rescue.
The department store has around 12,000 staff.
Debenhams said it would continue to trade through its 124 UK stores and online to clear its current and contracted stocks, while the Arcadia Group, which includes brands such as Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, also said stores would continue to trade.
Meanwhile, in a bid to liven up the West End, Westminster City Council is extending al fresco dining in central London for another six months.
Council leader Rachael Robathan said the scheme, which allows venues to provide “pop up” dining areas in streets, continued to be an important way of supporting the hospitality industry in London, which will fall under Tier 2 of the new restrictions.
“We have 3,700 restaurants, pubs and bars in central London and they help to support around 80,000 jobs,” she said.
“Hospitality is a big employer for us and, while the sector faces another tough few months under Tier 2 restrictions, at least we can support those venues who can offer outside space.”
Department store Selfridges is setting up a Christmas market outside its London store.
Described as a “foodies’ paradise”, it will also include several rides including a giant helter skelter.
A spokesman for Selfridges said: “Think a mini version of Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland which was cancelled this year.”
For customers heading to John Lewis, they are encouraged to go on the store’s website to pre-book a slot to visit their local shop up to 14 days in advance.
Meanwhile, retail giant Primark has reopened its 153 stores with longer shopping hours, while 11 stores will be open for 24 hours from 7am on Wednesday.
Homeware retailer Ikea opened 19 stores across England, including Tottenham Court Road’s planning studio which reopened for appointments and walk-ins.