OVERWHELMING loyalty from Christmas shoppers has given retailers a badly-needed boost, as the sector braces for further restrictions.
While non-essential outlets face another period of uncertainty as Covid cases rise, shop owners have thanked people for making a concerted effort to support them in the month of December.
Tina Grogan from Bambino in Ennis said it was very apparent that people made a conscious decision to back local retailers. “It has been so touching and the support coming up to Christmas was phenomenal,” she said. “It was really obvious that people were making an effort to shop local and, after the year that’s been in it, it was almost overwhelming to see.”
At the County Boutique, Gwen Culligan described the support as “unbelievable”. “We were just blown away by it,” said the former President of Ennis Chamber of Commerce. “We did brilliant business. Our customers came back to us and it was clear they were determined to give their support.”
The government’s decision to curtail the normal post-Christmas sales was a blow the sector was still coming to terms with, when news broke of further restrictions. Duncan Graham, Managing Director of Ennis-based Retail Excellence described the situation as “absolutely saddening and desperate”. “Retail has been on an enormous rollercoaster,” he said. “When the sector reopened, we did see some bounce back, but the normally busy period in the last days before Christmas just didn’t happen. We estimate trade is down around 20% for those days. In terms of the sales, retailers have been responsible and handled the situation sensibly by going online. That’s meant that footfall is down by around 50%.”
Margaret O’Brien, CEO of Ennis Chamber described the restrictions around sales as “a bomb dropping”. “Members reported brilliant business before Christmas but the restrictions around sales meant people had to have a big re-think,” she said. “That has a knock-on negative impact like having to pull advertising booked in local media and facing back into online sales and click and collect.”
As the first Covid-19 vaccines were administered in the Republic this week, Mr Graham urged the government to make the programme as quick as possible. “We absolutely need a speedy vaccinate programme,” he said. “The problem is that it seems, so far, to be moving at a snail’s pace.”
The overall move to online retail was described by Mr Graham as uneven, with some outlets availing successfully of grants from the likes of the Local Enterprise Office (LEO) and Enterprise Ireland. “You can’t just flick a switch,” he said. “We’ve seen five years worth of change in less than 12 months. On the plus side, we have definitely seen a rediscovery of local and Irish retail in-store and online.”