SHOPPERS queued outside a Primark into the early hours of the morning as non-essential retailers reopened after the lockdown.

Videos posted on Twitter showed long lines of people waiting outside the clothing store at Lakeside, in Thurrock - with some of the footage recorded at 1am on Thursday.

Non-essential retailers welcomed customers back for the first time in four weeks on Wednesday and many insist they have been pleasantly surprised by the volume of people coming through their doors.

The Royals Shopping Centre in Southend has even increased its opening hours to accommodate the anticipated rise in footfall in the coming weeks.

Manager Dawn Jeakings said: “The centre was very busy from the moment we opened.

“Everyone wore masks and were in good spirits, small queues were managed well throughout the day to make sure everyone kept their distance.

“All stores seem happy with trade.

“It’s been a great start to the long-awaited Christmas season.”

Over in Basildon, the Eastgate Shopping Centre also enjoyed a successful return to business after lockdown.

Manager Ian Clark said: “Eastgate saw a steady stream of returning shoppers on Wednesday.

“It bodes well for what everyone expects to be an increasingly busy December.

“The rise of localism has seen increased focus on centres close to where people live and work. Basildon has always had an extremely loyal customer base and we are benefitting significantly from our shoppers wanting to stay closer to home.

“We’re expecting a very busy three weeks in the run up to Christmas and then beyond.”

Independent shops have also seen customers return in their droves since the end of the lockdown.

Argosy Toys, in Westcliff, stayed open for click and collect orders in November.

But staff say the focus has once again shifted back to working with customers coming into store.

Spokesman Fiona Morgan said: “It’s been so good to see people coming in again and inevitably the online orders have dropped off completely.

“It’s been getting busier and we’re expecting it to be like that at the weekend as well.

“You never know if people are going to be comfortable coming out again after lockdown but it seems they’re keen to do their Christmas shopping.

“All our customers have been lovely and it’s been nice to help people face-to-face again.

“We’re hopeful it’s going to stay busy and we keep seeing people come through the doors.”