Retail and hospitality landlords were upbeat this week as stores reopened across the country – but warned there was a long way to go before the market recovered from the devastating impact of Covid.

Jess shopping2

Queues lined up outside stops on Bond Street

Customers flocked back to shopping destinations as non-essential stores reopened for the first time in more than three months. Data from PFM Footfall Intelligence shared exclusively with Property Week showed retail footfall across the UK on Monday 12 April was up more than 1,000% on the same day last year.

Shaftesbury, which owns a retail and hospitality-focused 16-acre portfolio in London’s West End, confirmed footfall had been high on the first day of reopening.

“It was what we expected, especially with the streets around Shaftesbury like Oxford Street and Regent Street being pretty busy,” Shaftesbury chief executive Brian Bickell told Property Week. “It has a lot to do with people seeing other people out and it really encourages them to come back.”

He added that while there remained “a way to go” – only half the estate’s hospitality businesses reopened as many were limited by a lack of outdoor space – things were “pointing in the right direction”.

Sovereign Centros chief executive Chris Geaves said the high footfall across its centres underlined the continued demand for physical retail. “Our prediction that there was pent-up demand to get back out to bricks ‘n’ mortar was firmly evidenced on Monday across the board,” he told Property Week.

Susie McCabe, co-chief executive of McArthurGlen, which on Monday opened its seventh UK centre, Designer Outlet West Midlands, said: “We had an incredibly positive launch, with footfall exceeding our opening day forecasts by nearly 145%. Yesterday was a significant day not only for McArthurGlen but for bricks ‘n’ mortar retail across the UK, as we collectively welcomed guests back again.”

Landsec also enjoyed strong footfall across its shopping centres. “With the re-opening of non-essential retail on Monday, footfall, as expected, increased substantially with queues forming early. Primark proved to be a draw with queues forming outside stores from 5am ahead of their 6am store opening time. In our outlets, queues formed again from 5am outside Nike at Junction 32 and at Gunwharf Quays and Braintree Village throughout the day,” said Bruce Findlay, managing director, retail at Landsec.

“A positive day with footfall ahead of the first days after Lockdown 1.0 and 2.0. Footfall was well managed across all centres, with extended trading hours in several centres helping to spread guests across a longer period. Across the portfolio, all our locations were buzzing with an additional food and beverage outdoor covers supporting our retailers and providing a much-needed first step back into normal life for our guests and brand partners alike. We’d like to thank everyone that visited one of our locations for supporting our teams on the ground by following social distancing guidelines and wearing face coverings.”

Other experts agreed that the reopening had instilled a renewed sense of hope. “This reopening feels different because, unlike last time, there is a real air of optimism among the general public,” said Harry Pickering, head of retail at Schroders. “With summer on the horizon and the success of the vaccine, we are seeing consumer confidence return and we hope to see shopping habits begin to return to normal.

“The next priority for landlords is to make the shopping experience as exciting and enticing as possible, to continue restoring consumer confidence and seize this opportunity to make up as much ground as possible on what has been a damaging year for the sector.”

Alison Clegg, managing director, asset management at Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, added: “With so many occupiers trading again or launching for the first time, alongside a 100% increase in outdoor dining, we are optimistic that we are seeing the first of many brighter days ahead.”

Mark Bourgeois, UK and Ireland managing director at Hammerson, added that the landlord had seen a “really positive reaction from our customers” when reopening. He said: “We have loved having them back, and seen a really positive reaction from our customers, both onsite and sharing the love for our spaces on our social media channels. I’d go as far to say that many of our customers would describe “non-essential” retail as a misnomer! It’s an exciting time for our destinations, but safety remains a priority. Thankfully, customers are now used to shopping a little differently.”

Jenny Casebourne, retail & leisure director at The Howard de Walden Estate, said: “We were really pleased to see the return of visitors to our retailers and restaurants within Marylebone Village yesterday. Marylebone High Street was busy and alive once more, as was Marylebone Lane where it was particularly exciting to see our community making the most of the lane’s temporary pedestrianisation.”

Steven Medway, place manager at Cadogan, added: “Footfall at Duke of York Square is a huge 169% higher than a typical Monday pre-pandemic, which demonstrates the pent up demand.

“People seem very respectful and happy to wait – the overall feeling is one of joy to be back out connecting with people and places.”

BPF chief executive Melanie Leech said she hoped the reopening signalled an imminent end to the evictions ban: “If we have a few weeks of decent weather, with people releasing pent-up demand and socialising, it will make it easier for the government to conclude it cannot go on protecting businesses indefinitely. It should have the confidence to lift the moratorium.”