Tuesday 21 May 2019

'Alarmist' Met Éireann warnings putting off shoppers, say retailers

'Every year I tell myself that this will be the one where I’m not racing to the shops on Christmas Eve.'
'Every year I tell myself that this will be the one where I’m not racing to the shops on Christmas Eve.'
Fiona Dillon

Fiona Dillon

A storm has broken out between retailers and forecasters amid claims "alarmist" weather warnings are deterring people from the shops.

Retail Excellence released phase one of its 2018 Christmas Trading Statement, claiming that weather alerts were "significantly damaging footfall".

Following consultation with more than 300 retailers, it said key findings were that "no matter what colour alert, consumers stay indoors".

Last Saturday, as the second- last Saturday before Christmas, would traditionally be one of the busiest shopping days of the year, but a Met Éireann alert led to shoppers being concerned about venturing out, the organisation added. Retail Excellence said that in reality, "for the majority of the country, last Saturday was a windy and rainy day".

However, Met Éireann has strongly defended its position - stating that it issues warnings for public safety, and they are based "on the best scientific evidence available at the time".

It has been a tough period for 'main street' - the trading statement said that there was significant growth in online demand, with over 70pc of online spend leaving the country.

Meanwhile, it reported footfall was down nationwide, although basket values were up, meaning individual shoppers were spending more.

Retailers now believe it is all to play for, with payday tomorrow for many people.

Figures show that, overall, Christmas 2018 retail sales will be on a par with Christmas 2017.

David Fitzsimons, group chief executive at Retail Excellence, said: "Our team has spent the past two days gathering trading data from over 300 retailers nationwide.

"The most common comment from retailers is that the weather alert issued by Met Éireann pertaining to weather conditions last Saturday was, at best, alarmist.

"Most of the country experienced rain and some wind and yet the alert more or less turned off the spending tap, on one of the most important days in the retail calendar.

"We very much hope that the lost spend will make its way into our members' tills in the coming days. Met Éireann needs to be cognisant of the devastating impact such alerts have on consumer activity," he said.

However, Joan Blackburn of Met Éireann told the Irish Independent: "We issue warnings for public safety and for nothing else, on the best scientific information available to us at the time."

She stressed warnings are based on the evidence available to Met Éireann, and they are continuously updated.

Ms Blackburn also pointed out that warnings are communicated and updated on their website.

In relation to last Saturday, she added: "The weather last Saturday was very bad. There was very heavy rainfall and there was strong wind.

"There was a potential for some extreme winds, which clipped parts of the south coast, and some parts of southern coastal counties did experience some extreme winds.

"Everywhere experienced windy conditions and it was extremely wet. There was a lot of flooding around last Saturday as well.

"Our rainfall warnings were in operation for yellow rainfall and a yellow wind warning countrywide. They were upgraded to orange for wind for a short period in different areas during Saturday. It was communicated that it would be for a short period. The potential for really extreme winds was there."

Ms Blackburn added that public safety is part of the remit of Met Éireann.

Irish Independent

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