It’s midnight on the first day after lockdown and the hustle and bustle of Primark proves that Christmas shopping is back on the cards – no matter what time of day.
The non-essential retailer was forced to close its doors in England on 5th November in line with coronavirus restrictions. And, as it’s not possible to buy their products online, fans were left pining for their precious low-priced purchases.
But, as a special treat, on 2nd December, the store opened its doors for 24 hours.
So, it’s perhaps no surprise that even in the middle of the night there is a buzz of shoppers keen to get their last minute bargains.
The rows are lined with cosy knitted hats and scarves, sparkly jumpers and elf costumes – all ready for a Christmas night out (providing it’s before 11pm).
And there’s even antlers on sale, to wear while you scoff your scotch egg and sip your mulled wine.
Primark chief executive Paul Marchant, said: “We are delighted to re-open our stores in England on 2 December, with longer shopping hours to give our customers more time to safely do their festive shopping.
“We have everything this season that our customers expect from Primark, including our famous Christmas jumpers, festive pyjamas and much, much more.”
A total of 11 branches stayed open for 24 hours – from 7am on 2nd December.
In Trafford shoppers reported big queues outside the shop.
One woman said: “Oh god. We left after 50 min in the queue outside.”
In Bluewater, Kent, a lot of people made the trip to grab some bargains.
Sally, a chef, said: “We haven’t come far really.
“My daughter told me about the late night shopping so we thought we may as well.
“I work late nights so this is one of my only chances to buy things for my grandchildren.”
We visited the store in Westfield, Stratford City, in the middle of the night to see whether consumers were ditching their beds for baskets.
Outside, in the freezing December air, shoppers Doina Nica, 27, and her brother Aureliu, 24, from Moldova, have bought new pillows and gifts to send home for Christmas.
Aureliu says: “We saw that Primark was open for 24 hours on the news and Facebook and thought we’d come to Westfield. We came so late because I’m a civil engineer and finished work at 9pm.
“I thought it would have been busy because it’s the first day after the lockdown but it’s been okay.”
Doina adds: “There are so many members of staff doing their best and keeping things nice and tidy – so we found what we needed easily. There were sanitisers and everything and the distancing was okay.
“But in the queue there was not a 2m distance and some people weren’t wearing masks. But we just have to keep a distance where we can.”
Figen Akgul, 33, also stayed up late to shop. But she was left disappointed by the experience.
She says: “I bought some pyjamas but I was disappointed because everything they were selling was lounge wear. Even though we can’t really dress up to go out, it’s still good to keep that spirit.
“I’ve never been to a Primark this late before. I didn’t think it was busy though. I came earlier in the day and it wasn’t busy and it isn’t busy now.
“It’s a waste of time to keep it open all night – especially after 1am or 2am, as it’s not that busy. It would be cool if all the shops in Westfield stayed open as it would be really nice and buzzing at this time of year. But it’s very dull at the moment.”
Meanwhile, Amazon delivery driver, Saffa, went to Primark straight after a busy day at work to buy some clothes.
She says: “I came here so late because I just finished work – it’s been really busy after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I was kind of excited to come shopping so late. I finish work late so I’d like them to stay open late more often.”
For some, the shop staying open throughout the night, meant there was also a chance to potentially shop in solitude.
Jaylon Diante, 21, did some shopping for Christmas and bought socks and t-shirts. He says: “I went at night because I thought it would be quieter than going shopping during the day.”
And sisters Asia Tarout, 40, and Amina Rahman, 39, simply went to “have a laugh” and buy some pyjamas.
Unsurprisingly, the rest of the shopping centre is a ghost town and is a little eery to say the least.
The bars and restaurants were all shut by the time we arrived at 11pm and most of the other stores closed their doors even earlier.
But Primark has brought a whole new meaning to the phrase late night shopping.
Prepared for an onslaught of customers, countless shop assistants mill around the aisles.
A few are propped up at the till and all of them look in need of a decent night’s sleep.
Yet the queue still winds through the shop and even though it’s icy outside, one flustered shopper announces: “The sweat is dripping off me.”
But it’s easy to see why shoppers are so keen to buy their cut-price purchases.
Even children have been allowed to stay up for a midnight shop – as one little girl runs to her mother with a dress, smiling: “That’s in my size mummy”.
The only empty section of the store can be found amongst the rows of menswear.
Instead, people are browsing festive finds, including Mickey Mouse pyjamas in sizes to fit all the family, a gingerbread house kit and even Christmas outfits for dogs.
The pyjama area of the shop was also particularly busy – as customers flocked to see the cosy fleece and comfy cotton designs.
It’s hard not to smile at the familiarity and hope of the cheery decorations, as friends joke over Grinch-themed jumpers.
For a moment, it seems as though 2020 is just a normal year….and that 12am is a normal time of day to shop.
The high street may be in desperate trouble as a result of the pandemic, but Primark is certainly determined to hold it’s place in the hearts of consumers across the country.
And, as the store maintains a steady hum of excitement into the early hours of the morning when we leave, it definitely seems to be doing something right.