At around midnight on Wednesday, the car park at Primark in Brocklebank retail park, south-east London, was packed. Leaving the store, most of the masked-up patrons carried several bags full of shopping.
In an attempt to recoup some of the lost profits during England’s second national lockdown, and to allow shoppers extra time for Christmas shopping, Primark reopened its 153 stores on Wednesday with extended trading hours. Some remained open until 10pm, others as late as midnight, but 11 locations, including Charlton, offered a 40-hour trading marathon with the shop trading through the night.
Primark said it had anticipated higher demand before the festive season and was trying to keep queues under control by spreading shopping hours over longer periods of time. And in the early hours of Thursday morning, avoiding large crowds as the pandemic rumbled on seemed to be behind many customers’ thinking.
“I expected shopping in the middle of the night to be quieter, but it’s just as packed,” said 56-year-old Pauline Scotter, who said the queue to get in when she arrived had gone the length of the store.
Though she has a disability that affects her back and cannot stand for long periods of time, Scotter said she did not like online shopping – “the material’s never as nice as it looks”. So she welcomed the opportunity to go back in-store to pick up “cheap and cheerful” Christmas presents for her fast-growing grandchildren. She had loaded up her car, she said, with bags full of “wintry bits” – tracksuits, leggings and jumpers – and was ready to head home to nearby Kidbrooke before 1am.
Also thrilled with their late-night retail escapade were self-proclaimed avid shoppers Baroness Campbell – her real name – and Kresha Labodie. The sisters from Leyton had planned their visit to stock up on pyjamas and personal essentials a week in advance, as soon as they saw the opening hours on social media. “Living in London, you’re used to being able to do and access anything, all the time,” said Campbell.
The lockdown, she said, had been tough on her mental health. “That’s what made the 24-hour opening really appealing. It’s nice to finally be able to come out together and shop in our own time,” added Labodie, who said she wanted to take full advantage of being able to shop while her 20-month-old was asleep at home.
“It feels weird shopping late, but we’re coming back tomorrow to get more Christmas stuff,” Campbell said.
The novelty of late-night shopping had also appealed to mother and daughter Bev and Phoebe Farrer. While they were mainly out to get stocking fillers, content analyst Phoebe, who is working from home, was also in the market for “pyjamas and cosy wear”.
Dental hygienist Bev was also wary of how long shops would stay open this time and did not want to take any chances so close to Christmas. “You just don’t know if they might close them again. Plus if you’re ordering online you don’t know if the deliveries will be held up and even make it in time,” she said.
Natalie Campbell was heading in to shop at 12.30am, having just finished work at a pub in nearby Bromley. Not only was it unusual for her to be able to go shopping after work, she doubly needed this opportunity to get Christmas presents for everyone: “I haven’t been able to get anything yet because I’ve had no money.”
Also weary of lockdown was Lia Knightley, 21, who had come to buy underwear. She felt the 24-hour opening would also benefit staff, giving them a chance to earn more money after such long periods of closure, and would also help those working night shifts and antisocial hours in the run-up to Christmas. “People won’t have to miss shifts in order to buy presents,” she said.