Retail rush off to good start but fears remain
Shops that took on extra staff for the Christmas rush got some payback yesterday as the first shopping Saturday in December got off to an encouraging start, but retail leaders insist it could have been even better but for pre-Budget anxiety and property tax fears.
"There is worry there, undoubtedly. Last week, people saw, for the first time, concrete details on how much they will have to pay in property tax. I would say people are just waiting for Wednesday's Budget before they commit themselves to shopping. There is a fair bit of anxiety," said Dave Fitzsimons of Retail Excellence Ireland (REI).
"December Budgets mean that Christmas is starting later every year for retailers and with Christmas Day on a Tuesday, it means that the final weekend of December 22 will be very important," he said.
Yesterday, suburban rail services were full and there was traffic congestion on all the major routes into Dublin.
Good weather and the arrival of the monthly pay packet for many workers helped to boost footfall in Dublin city centre and the major shopping centres around the capital.
Conor Keoghan of Brown Thomas Car Park described yesterday's trading as encouraging, with the car park full by 11am.
Traffic was busy, with the Automobile Association reporting that progress was slow along Dublin's north quays, from Wolfe Tone Quay to Arran Quay, and slow along College Green from early morning.
Arnotts' car park was at full capacity by 11.30am, with long queues forming on approach.
There were also reports of delays on the approach to Dundrum Town Centre from the M50 interchange.
Government figures revealed that there was an increase in the volume and value of retail sales in October but these remain difficult times for retailers.
Other survey findings released by REI last week showed retailers overall were predicting a drop of 0.47 per cent in Christmas trading. But, it also revealed that specifically, 60 per cent of retailers felt they would experience growth or like-for-like parity when compared with last December.
"While the expectation among a significant cohort of retail companies is for marginal negative growth this Christmas, it is heartening to see that almost 60 per cent of all operators expect to enjoy growth or, at minimum, like-for-like parity," the retail body said in a statement.
In a bid to lure shoppers, cheap parking is being offered by local authorities around the country.
Councils in Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Cork, Sligo and Waterford have cut prices and introduced park-and-ride services to encourage people to shop in the city centre.
The move is part of an effort to encourage shoppers into the cities and away from out-of-town shopping centres where free parking is generally available.
Meanwhile, international retail giant Harvey Norman is embroiled in a major row with IBRC (formerly Anglo Irish Bank), which is demanding a 10 per cent rent increase on its store in Cork. It is understood that Harvey Norman's Irish boss Blaine Callard received the demand, which was signed by IBRC chief executive Mike Ansley.
"Many State landlords are not willing to engage with tenants and, in fact, some are currently increasing the rent, as borne out by IBRC's rent increase demands on Harvey Norman in Cork – a store which is already paying double the market rent and which has emphatically stated that the store will close should the rent increase," according to Mr Fitzsimons.