Christmas shoppers head north and online for gifts
A growth of Irish consumer spending on UK websites has left retailers here disappointed with Christmas sales, despite busy shopping streets and packed stores in major cities and towns.
It comes as Newry - just six miles north of the border - is enjoying a pre-Christmas bonanza as thousands of southern shoppers stream there in search of a seasonal bargain. Talk of a Brexit inspired border has been put to one side with local car parks "chock-a-block" with Republic of Ireland registrations, according to one shop owner.
Retailers in the Republic had hoped continued economic growth would contribute to today being one of the biggest shopping days the country has seen for a decade.
However, they are now being more cautious, saying the Christmas sales period will return marginal gains for Irish businesses. Some fear poor sales will lead to closures in the early part of 2018.
Retail Excellence Ireland yesterday said this Christmas will trade on a par with the same period last year.
David Fitzsimons, chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland, said consumer activity over the past seven days was less robust than previously expected. He said Irish consumers shopping on UK websites during December will come at a cost of €300m to the Irish economy.
"Certain retail sectors have come under sustained pressure in recent days including ladieswear, jewellery and telecommunications.
"Having experienced the most successful Black Friday ever, the momentum could not be sustained and retail sales dipped in the latter part of the month.
"Over €300m has been spent by Irish consumers with UK websites to date in December which has significantly undermined the Irish retail industry. Some retail closures are most probable in the first quarter of 2018."
Thomas Burke from Retail Ireland, the Ibec group representing the industry, said Irish businesses are discounting goods to combat UK threats. He added that this strategy would continue from St Stephen's Day into the January sales.
"Competition in the market place is stiff and we need to consider the threat from across the border and online. Retailers are extremely aware of that and their pricing structures are devised with that in mind."
Shoppers from as far away as Cork were heading north yesterday, lured by low sterling prices. Huge numbers are also travelling from Dublin and counties in the border region.
Bargain hunters thronged retail outlets yesterday looking to make savings on a range of goods.
Joyce Halpenny from Ardee, Co Louth, travels north of the border every week to do her grocery shopping in the Fiveways Nisa Extra store in Newry.
"To buy minerals where we're from costs €2.75, but we can get it for £1 here," she told the Sunday Independent at the Quays centre yesterday.
"It's a big difference, and it all adds up when you have a family. Cleaning products are also cheaper. You could pay more than €4 in a chemist in the south and get it for £1 in the north."
Seamus McNamee, the owner of the First and Last off-licence in Jonesborough, just south of Newry, said today will be one of their busiest days of the year.
"On Christmas Eve you won't be able to get into the car park for love nor money, the traffic will be so bad I will have someone go out and stop the traffic piling up on the main road."