Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry
Early birds hit the stores up and down the country to avoid the queues as non-essential shops in England reopened after the four-week lockdown.
Droves of customers queued early outside store giants such as Primark and Nike Town in London’s Oxford Street on what has been dubbed “Wild Wednesday”.
England has moved into a system of tiers with varying restrictions - but most shops will be allowed to trade.
Jordan Roberts, 19, was among a dozen people queuing outside Selfridges at the popular shopping destination before the flagship department store opened its doors on a frosty Wednesday morning.
They were welcomed by store workers dressed as glittery elves on roller skates and encouraged to walk through one-way systems on every floor, one of the measures shops have implemented to comply with Government guidelines on social distancing.
Miss Roberts said she was doing her Christmas shopping, adding: “It feels more enjoyable being in a store and things run out of stock online.”
On England coming out of lockdown, she said: “It’s good to have our freedom back.”
The majority of England is under Tier 2 and 3 of the new Covid-19 restrictions which limits social contact between households but allows non-essential stores to reopen.
London shopper Tamara Rass, 44, said she hit the stores early as she anticipated the shops to get busy.
She said: “For me, it’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel and getting back to normality.
“There are things in store that I can’t get online and I like to treat my daughter once a month.”
Business leaders hope the British high street will be given a boost in the final weeks coming up to Christmas, as retailers battle to recover from crippling restrictions during the pandemic.
It comes after nearly 25,000 staff at Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group hang in the balance, with fashion chain Bonmarche the latest retailer to collapse into administration for the second time in just over a year.
Selfridges’ stores director Maeve Wall said she was saddened to hear the news of potential job losses and described the festive season as a crucial time of the year for retailers.
Speaking to the PA news agency, she said: “It’s never a good time when you hear other department stores and brands on the high street closing.
“It’s definitely a sad period of time and particularly to hear so many potential job losses.
“Retail this year along with hospitality, it’s been really challenging and Christmas is such a big part of the retail calendar.
“The next couple of weeks we have ahead of us, hopefully the measures put in place across the country people will come out and feel safe.”
Across the West End, a few shoppers scattered around Covent Garden where independent stallholders eagerly awaited their first customers after nearly a month.
One such stallholder was Jane Ireland, who has had her family-run stall at Covent Garden, selling hand-painted silk ties, for 40 years.
On England coming out of lockdown, she said: “It’s a little bit of hope but I’m not that optimistic.
“There are no tourists around and we depend on them in this part of London.”
She said the tiering system posed challenges in that regular customers from outside of London are unlikely to travel to the capital if they are from a different tier.
“A lot of customers over the years would come down from places like Scotland to go to the theatres and then here but people can’t leave their tiers,” she said.
“It’s chipping away at potential customers.
“When theatres open up again we might get more of a buzz.”
Natasha Oconnoa, 38, and Daley Simeon, 39, from Southall, west London, both went out shopping in Covent Garden to use cash to buy Christmas gifts.
The couple, who are both key workers, said they believed the second national lockdown should have had the same restrictions as the first.
Ms Oconnoa, who works as a teaching assistant, said: “Having things open makes people want to go out.”
On shops reopening, she said: “It is much nicer but a lot of shops where we live were open anyway.”
What can you do in each tier from December 2? The new rules in England at a glance:
Tier 1: Up to six people can meet indoors or outdoors. Pubs and restaurants can open, with last orders at 10pm and closing at 11pm.
Tier 2: No mixing indoors, apart from support bubbles. Up to six people can meet outdoors. Pubs and restaurants can open, with last orders at 10pm and closing at 11pm - but alcohol can only be served with a substantial meal.
Tier 3: No mixing indoors. People can only meet outdoors in limited places such as parks and public gardens. Pubs and restaurants must close, with the exception of takeaway sales.
In all tiers, non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers and personal care services can open. People in all tiers to work from home where they can do so. Full details on what you can do in each tier here.