Sales season brings €1bn boost for the retail sector
Christmas Day proves a huge draw for eager online bargain hunters
Irish shoppers' post-Christmas splurge has brought a €1bn bonanza for shops and department stores -- the biggest fillip for the vital retail sector for six years.
The sales season kicked off on St Stephen's Day, with Retail Excellence Ireland confirming its biggest sales success since Christmas 2008.
Retailers have reported an overall increase of 20 per cent in sales this year so far, with many capitalising on the huge demand by opening early and drafting in extra staff.
The retail sector is Ireland's largest employer, with more than 250,000 people employed, representing 14.5 per cent of Ireland's total workforce, and accounts for more than 10 per cent of Ireland's GDP.
The Government, after consistent criticism over its failure to tackle issues like upward-only rents and commercial rates, now sees a healthy retail sector as a key driver of economic growth.
"Both footfall and spending are significantly up on last year," said David Fitzsimons of Retail Excellence Ireland. "The sales period after Christmas each year is worth approximately €900m to Irish retailers, but we could easily top the €1bn mark this year, given the start we've seen," he added.
After a disappointing December for many Irish businesses, many shops have significantly more stock at deeper discounts this year and more and more shoppers are postponing their Christmas spend to make the most of the January sales bargains.
According to Retail Excellence Ireland, Irish customers have also taken to seasonal spending a lot more frugally this year, choosing to wait until the sales to buy.
"We have noticed that savvy consumers are willing to postpone fashion, footwear, home and prestige and luxury brand spending into the sales period," Mr Fitzsimons said. "There is a significant cohort of fairly discerning customers out there who are willing to forgo the Christmas outfit or the pre-Christmas home improvements to purchase them at sales prices. Even with more money in our pockets, it seems we have become more frugal."
Ireland's Christmas sales are also attracting a huge amount of international customers.
"We have a huge amount of people coming from Asia in particular and many of these customers don't celebrate Christmas, so the post-Christmas sales are a very attractive bonus to them," Mr Fitzsimons explained. "They are very brand conscious and our prestige luxury brands prices are very competitive. Add to that mix a dollop of 50 per cent off and it's easy to see why they choose to shop here."
A large amount of Irish people are now choosing to shop online, with many stores starting their sales on their websites to meet the demand. An Post have reported that this Christmas was their busiest to date for package and parcel deliveries resulting from online purchases, which are increasing on average by 15 per cent each year. However, the tactile tradition of attending the Christmas sales in person remains a front-runner.
Both Retail Excellence Ireland and An Post report that Irish people are more likely to spend online earlier and more often than ever before in the run-up to Christmas, but prefer to physically shop the sales from St Stephen's Day.
Christmas Day, however, was a huge draw for online shoppers in need of retail therapy, with Amazon.co.uk experiencing their busiest Christmas Day yet this year. More and more Irish people are also selling on unwanted gifts on websites like DoneDeal.ie faster than ever before, with many products for sale within hours of being received.
Debenhams shoppers could also get their retail fix early this year with a sneak preview of the discounts on Christmas Eve, the result of last year's demand which saw the Debenhams website get more than 100,000 visitors between Christmas Day and St Stephen's Day, despite their stores around the country opening at 8am on St Stephen's Day.
The Arnotts online sale also started at midnight on Christmas Eve, with traffic to the site on Christmas Day up 50 per cent on last year.
Minister Pat Rabbitte urged struggling Irish retailers to embrace online trading, warning that they were losing out on millions of euro in sales to foreign companies online.
Irish consumers spent approximately €4bn online in the last year, much of which went to retail businesses outside of Ireland, a trend which the Government hopes to reverse in the new year when it hopes to launch a trading online voucher scheme for Irish retailers.
"There is an enormous opportunity for Irish businesses in the online space and there are significant risks if they don't develop online trading platforms," he said.
"There is a real opportunity for small businesses to grow. My ambition is to ensure that a much greater proportion of the online spend stays in Ireland, supports Irish businesses and creates jobs in this country. For that to happen, many more Irish businesses need to offer services online."
Throughout this week, frugal festive visitors thronged into cities and shopping centres around Ireland to pick up a bargain, some en route to family gatherings shopping for last-minute gifts, with many at half the price they had been just days before.
Arnotts was packed all week, with approximately 200 people waiting for the doors to open on St Stephen's Day.
The Brown Thomas sale kicked off on St Stephen's Day from 9am, and their Gucci and Prada stores even had velvet ropes and "bouncers" to manage the queues into their concessions.
"Sales were nicely up on last year," managing director of Brown Thomas Stephen Sealey told the Sunday Independent. "Handbag sales were really strong, and men's was especially busy this year.
"As always, we saw a lot of Asian customers on the first day of sale, mainly buying accessories. Between them, our sales consultants can speak about 30 languages, so we can make all nationalities welcome!" he added.
In Clerys, discounts on all products will continue to mark the end of what has been a somewhat traumatic year for the iconic department store, which managed to re-open just in time for Christmas following a five-month closure due to extensive flood damage earlier this year.