'Covid fatigue' and Christmas lures eager shoppers

By Dearbail Jordan
Business reporter, BBC News

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Image source, PA Media

"Lockdown fatigue" and the lure of Christmas tempted people back into shops on Wednesday as non-essential stores in England re-opened.

Footfall across shops in England, many of which have been closed for a month,rose by 86.6% compared with last Wednesday, said analyst Springboard.

The uplift is bigger than the rise in footfall seen after the first, longer lockdown ended in June.

But Springboard said shoppers were eager to get out and enjoy Christmas.

"People need and want to buy presents and they want to get out and experience Christmas," said Diane Wehrle, marketing & insights director at Springboard.

"Also we do have this lockdown fatigue. We've been confined to our houses and not been able to go out and I think we're getting more used to living with Covid."

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Shoppers queue outside Primark in Portsmouth as non-essential shores re-opened on Wednesday

The day on which lockdown ended in June saw footfall increase by 37%, below the bounce back recorded after the most recent restrictions in England.

Ms Wehrle said: "In June, [Covid] was still very, very new. It really shocked people and they were absolutely terrified.

"People understand it a little bit better now and know what their own personal parameters are."

However, footfall is still far below that of 2019, down almost a quarter compared with the same day last year.

And Barclaycard said spending on so-called "wild Wednesday" had fallen 13.8% short of purchases made on Black Friday last week.

Rob Cameron, chief executive of Barclaycard Payments, said: "Even with some stores staying open until much later this evening, it's looking unlikely that today will overtake Black Friday.

"Instead, retailers will probably have to wait until Saturday - the first non-working day following stores reopening this week - to hit that milestone."

Shops across England reopened their doors on Wednesday, with the majority of regions under tier 2 Covid-19 restrictions. They limit social contact between households, but allow non-essential stores to reopen.

Primark restarted trading early, at 07:00 on Wednesday. At the Trafford Centre in Manchester, it attracted about 100 shoppers at the start of trading.

'Holy grail'

Zoe Inman, centre director at the Trafford Centre, she was not disappointed with the numbers: "It is what we expected."

But she said she was hopeful that the UK's approval of the Pfizer/BioBTech vaccine could help restore some normality.

The UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for mass vaccination.

Ms Inman hailed the vaccine as a "holy grail".

"We've been waiting for this news for so long," she said. "I think once we get that vaccine, we can be more like life as normal, so we do welcome that."

Some people braved the cold to queue from the early hours of Wednesday morning to beat an anticipated rush of shoppers.

Emily Harrison in Birmingham, who had come to buy baby clothes, said she'd been "dreading it", but added: "I'm glad it's not busy because I hate when it's busy, so hopefully it'll stay quiet."

Karen Marsh, a mental health nurse in Manchester, said she wanted to come to the shops for Christmas presents: "So it's that bit extra special thought rather than ordering online."

"I thought, 'I'm going to come out for a day, boost my mental health, do a bit of shopping, get everything I need, just to boost how I feel,'" she said.

"Its so important," said Sam Watson, general manager of Selfridges in Birmingham. "Whilst online trading has been brilliant, nothing beats that experience of having customers in the store shopping for their Christmas gifts."

'So difficult'

Laura Knight, who runs independent retailer Tinkers Treasures in Bishop Auckland, said it had been "so difficult" to close during November.

Image caption,
Laura Knight said people need to come out and start spending to help independent retailers

"It is one of the busiest months of retail for trade so in December we really need to get people out and spending money to see us through," she said.

Earlier this week, the department store chain said it would close its doors after failing to secure a buyer. It is likely its 12,000 staff will lose their jobs.

Debenhams saw queues outside some of its stores after announcing its collapse earlier this week, Online, long queues also formed for Debenhams' website and by mid-morning the site had crashed altogether.