A new report from Retail Ireland says the sector looks set to record its best Christmas shopping season in five years with Irish consumers expected to spend more than €4 billion on festive cheer and gifts in the coming weeks.
But according to local retailers, who were among the hardest hit in the downturn, the era of a guaranteed bumper Christmas take is gone. Consumers are more discerning than ever and retailers are having to work hard to incentivise them to spend.
Tom Burke, director of IBEC’s Retail Ireland, said the figures back up these claims.
“The volume of sales appears to be increasing but the value is not increasing,” he outlined. “Retailers are offering sales and discounting heavily to drive footfall and encourage people to shop.”
According to president of Ballina Chamber of Commerce Kevin Connolly the business community there are being more innovative than ever before to attract shoppers to town. And their efforts are paying off.
“There is a positive feeling. It is definitely not getting worse,” he said. “It is all down to hard work and driving it on.”
He described how the chamber is working with local businesses and the council to stage novel festivals and events, such as the Frosty Salmon Festival, which is launching tomorrow, and combining those events with hugely attractive shopping offers, and free parking to give consumers a compelling reason to open their wallets.
Mayo retailer Carraig Donn, which operates a nationwide chain of fashion, jewellery, and giftware outlets, and has its flagship store in Westport, said the retailers who are surviving, and in their case thriving, are focusing on providing the right mix of attractively packaged, quality, products at the right price.
“You have to be price conscious but at the same time the quality has to be there too and it is up to us, as retailers, to put that in front of the customers, package it well, and market it well,” said Maeve McCormack, marketing and e-commerce manager at Carraig Donn.
“We as a company in general terms have had a very good year,” she added.
Carraig Donn opened four new outlets over the last two months, in Arklow, Dundalk, Waterford, and Navan.
“That is on foot of increases in footfall and this Christmas looks like it will be very good for us,” said Ms McCormack.
In the county town, Mary Fahey, of Patrick Fahey Giftware on Main Street, Castlebar, said while things are starting to look up, consumers are still wary of spending too much.
“There will always be Christmas and there will always be that retail boost,” she said. “However, people do have more bills and taxes to pay and are still a little bit wary of spending too much because they don’t know what is around the next corner.”