Thousands of customers queued for hours in searing heat to have the chance to shop inside an Ikea store for the first time since lockdown in March.
The homewares giant reopened its doors at 19 sites across England and Northern Ireland on Monday morning, with new safety measures in place and limits on the number of customers allowed in at any one time.
Belfast saw some of the largest lines, which were patrolled by social distance wardens, with queues running along the main road outside the store. Elsewhere, customers were photographed snaking around car parks as they waited their turn to go in.
Two customers, Samantha Fisher and her daughter Atlanta, from Groomsport, near Bangor in Co Down, queued from 8am in order to shop for a bedroom they wanted to furnish which had lain empty for weeks during the pandemic lockdown.
Ms Fisher said: “I wanted my dressing table. My room is empty because I did it up a few months ago and it is just a big space ready for it to go in.
“So that will be my husband’s job tonight, to build it and put it together.”
They also bought mirrors, blankets and outdoor furnishings.
One adult and one child per household
Prior to reopening, Ikea bosses said wardens will patrol stores to help shoppers and ensure they keep their distance from each other.
Families are banned, with the business saying it will only allow one adult and one child per household inside the store at any one point.
The 19 stores reopening are Croydon, Greenwich, Lakeside, Wembley, Tottenham, Norwich collection point, Birmingham, Nottingham, Belfast, Manchester, Warrington, Gateshead, Leeds, Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Reading, Southampton, Bristol and Exeter.
The Coventry store did not reopen and will remain closed permanently.
Play areas and restaurants will stay shut, but Ikea insists its popular meatballs will be available in food courts to cook at home.
Drive-through coronavirus testing
Since the pandemic and subsequent store closures, Ikea’s car parks in Gateshead and Wembley have been turned into drive-through coronavirus testing sites.
Key workers were also allowed to shop in the in-store Swedish Food Markets after being tested.
Bosses had previously asked shoppers to “come prepared with ready-made lists and own bags” for the reopening.
Click and collect facilities are also opening in a phased approach and in line with Government guidelines, with Ikea saying this will depend on which UK region stores are in.
Extra hand sanitiser and more deep cleans of bags, trolleys, bathrooms, equipment and touchscreens will take place.
Cash will not be accepted, with all payments by card or contactless device only, and customers should avoid travelling to stores just to process refunds because Ikea says it has a 365-day returns policy.