THE Clare-based deputy head of Retail Excellence has described the government’s latest roadmap on the reopening of the economy and society as “frustrating,” and hit out at the lack specific detail and key targets.
Award-winning retailer Jean McCabe said that the latest Living with Covid-19 plan, as outlined on Tuesday by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, was short on detail and difficult for people to buy into. “When you examine what was said, there was no reference or mention of the non-essential retail sector,” she said. “Everyone in business needs Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the latest announcement is very lacking in terms of the data and the number of cases we need to be at before we’ll be able to open our doors. Everyone needs to see clear goals, that makes the plan more achievable and what we’ve heard this week is very frustrating and quite short-sighted.”
Ms McCabe said that while her clothing retail business, Willow, is well established online, there are many small shops who are struggling. “To some extent, our online sales have off set some of the impact of click and collect being taken away,” she outlined. “For us, the loss of click and collect since the start of this year wasn’t determinantal, but for a lot of retailers, it has been. For anyone who didn’t have their online sales channels established or their logistics partners in place, there are real issues.”
The Retail Excellence deputy chair said her organisation continues to lobby government for the return of click and collect services. “We would be hopeful that that will be allowed to return and would expect that there will be click and collect available before the full re-opening of retail,” she said.
Ms McCabe also highlighted the ongoing concern of the non-essential retail sector over the practices of the big multiples who sell drapery as well as grocery items. “The situation is still a source of huge frustration,” she said. “Despite everything, there are still some supermarkets with drapery on display and they are flouting the rules. Some have even brought some of their clothing stock into the food aisles. The fact is that the supermarkets have done extremely well throughout the pandemic. There is a definite feeling that they are eating the cake of smaller retailers.”
Concerns were also voiced by Ms McCabe about the commitment of some of the multiples to the health and safety guidelines. “To some extent, there are big stores who have lost sight of their role in the pandemic,” she said. “Early on, they were quite good at managing numbers and ensuring the guidelines were followed. That doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. In one of my own stores, I have nine sanitising points. I don’t think I could say that some of the bigger supermarkets have an equivalent number for their size. They’re pushing the guidelines and that situation is giving all retail a bad name.”
The latest Living Covid-19 Plan outlined the retention of key business supports, including the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) and the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) until June 30. The majority of Level 5 restrictions, other than the phased reopening of childcare and schools, are to remain in place until April 5 at the earliest.