Irish consumers are expected to splash out more than €3bn in stores this month as a combination of pent-up demand and lockdown savings sparks a nationwide spending spree.
Retailers all over the country were revelling in the first day of post-lockdown trading yesterday as huge numbers of click-and-collect and appointment shoppers indulged in their first splurge in five months.
Retail Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the retail sector, say it now expects consumers to spend 40pc more on debit and credit cards this month than in a normal year.
Millions of euros will be spent over the coming days alone as people return to their high streets and shopping centres for the first time since December.
In Dublin city centre, business was brisk from early in the morning as the streets of the capital were once again teeming with shoppers as non-essential stores re-opened by appointment and click-and-collect.
Around €8m would be spent on a normal day in May but footfall around Dublin is still only expected to be at around 45pc of usual levels when full retail reopens next Monday.
Richard Guiney, CEO of Dublin Town, said the queues outside some stores were “more than I would have anticipated” and were more consistent with the high levels of footfall seen last June after the first lockdown.
“It’s certainly a lot busier than we anticipated and that’s very encouraging in terms of the future for us,” he said.
“The key things for is that the sentiment towards the city centre is very positive and people are coming back.
“We have been anticipating a slow build-up starting from next week. The footfall is about 45pc of normal levels and then when hospitality comes on stream, it gets up to around 60pc.”
He said people had accumulated massive savings during lockdown and were keen to spend.
“What is encouraging is that even when it’s retail by appointment, people are willing to make an effort, even on a Monday. In terms of physical retail, that’s very encouraging,” he said.
Similar levels of demand were reported in other cities around the country including Cork.
Justin Young, general manager of Mahon Point, which has 60 outlets, said the demand for fashion stores was “much more than we anticipated” which he said was really positive for retailers.
He said the staggered opening dates will help take off some of the pressure when all retail opens on May 17.
“It will mitigate the bigger surge that will happen next week but there’s clearly pent-up demand and people just want to get out and shop and get what they’re after early before it gets too busy,” he said.
He said they had to open up an extra car-park that they hadn’t used in months, such was the level of activity.
“It’s been incredibly positive, both from a staff point of view and a public point of view. Everybody has been so fed up with all the lockdowns so there’s a very, very good vibe which is really good to see,” he said.
“The numbers are certainly ahead of what we would have expected.”
Arnold Dillon, Director of Retail Ireland, said that “a buzz is finally returning to high streets after months of restrictions”.
Consumer spending is expected to rise by 9pc in 2021, according to a study by IBEC.
This comes in the wake of Irish households spending €9.1bn less in 2020 than they spent during 2019.
“Those shops that opened for appointments have been busy and shoppers are genuinely thrilled to be back. While there are strict limits on numbers, those making appointments are spending a lot more than normal. There is a lot of pent up demand which should lead to a strong recover over the coming months,” he said.
He said public health has been the “absolute priority” for retailers as they trade in a responsible manner. “Over recent weeks, retailers have been reviewing and updating their public health protocols to ensure a safe experience for customers and staff,” he said.
Mr Dillon said the last few months have been “incredibly stressful for retail businesses and their staff”.
But the mood is far more buoyant this week, given the huge support shown to stores from members of the public.
“There is a real sense of optimism. We don’t expect to have to close down again,” he said.
Meanwhile, Penneys has never been so popular with most of its 250,000 shopping appointments booked up.
Customers began pouring through the doors of the high street favourite from early on and there was “great excitement” in its 36 stores.
“Everyone was in wonderful spirits, delighted to be back shopping,” said a spokesperson.