Primark enjoyed “record” sales in the first week of opening as lockdown restrictions in England and Wales were eased, the company said.
Large queues formed outside Primark stores as restrictions were eased on Monday 12 April allowing non-essential retail to open.
Bosses claim this third emergence from lockdown has been different to those last summer and in the run-up to Christmas with shopping habits changing.
With an apparent end to the Covid-19 pandemic in sight, shoppers are buying more outfits for going out, rather than stay-at-home comfort clothes, and are also making specific trips to city centre stores.
John Bason, finance chief of the retailer’s parent company Associated British Foods (ABF) said there had been a shift in the spread, with pre-Covid trading typically concentrated in lunchtimes, evenings and weekends and the items being bought.
The finance chief said: “This is our emergence from the third lockdown. If you compare it to the people coming back in June of last year, and December of last year – those trends were characterised by people still buying clothes in terms of lockdown, easy to wear clothes.
“What is striking this time is, fashion is back… It feels like people are thinking more about what they’re going to wear when they go out with friends or go out to dinner and all those social occasions.”
The success of the first week has buoyed the company whose profits were badly hit by the pandemic with sales were down 17% to £6.3 billion and adjusted profits before tax down 50% to £319 million.
But Primark’s owner remain "convinced" of long-term growth and revealed it will repay £121 million in furlough cash claimed for workers in the current financial year. including £72 million to the UK Government.
Chief executive George Weston said the repayments would be made as he was confident stores will become cash generative following the easing of restrictions in England and Wales, where 40% of Primark selling space is located.
Mr Weston said: “We are excited about welcoming customers back into our stores as the lockdowns ease and are delighted with record sales in England and Wales in the week after reopening on 12 April.
“With our success in a number of new markets, as wide-ranging as Poland and Florida, we are as convinced as we have ever been in the long-term growth prospects for Primark.”
Following the decision to repay taxpayer cash, the company also announced it will pay a 6.2p-a-share interim dividend to shareholders worth £49 million. Associated British Foods (ABF) said the decision comes despite stores remaining closed for most of the autumn and winter period, leading to revenues and profits plunging.
Sales were down 17% to £6.3 billion and adjusted operating profits fell 50% to £319 million in the six months to February 27.
The company said it expects to be trading from 68% of selling space by the end of April.
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