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Best Christmas in years will boost trade and jobs in retail

Traders are so confident of a return to a “normal” Christmas trade they will take on enough contract staff for 15 million hours of extra shifts in the next few weeks.

“We’ve turned a corner,” said a relieved Arnotts chief executive Ray Hernan.

Last year’s Christmas trade dashed retailers’ hopes. A combination of bad weather and lack of confidence among consumers killed the festive trade stone dead with retailers forced into a furious January sell-off of unsold stock.

Last night, Retail Excellence Ireland hosted their annual awards with a sell-out function in Galway in what is regarded as the last blow-out for traders before seven-day selling begins.

But as Ireland’s shops and department stores embark on two months of longer opening hours, a growing body of evidence and Sunday Independent spot polls suggest shoppers finally have an appetite for pre-crash Christmas spending.

Retail sales have risen for the last three consecutive quarters, the first time since 2007.

And there has been a noticeable spike in demand for big ticket luxury items.

Sales of jumbo televisions were up 55pc in the July to September period compared to the same months last year, according to industry body Retail Excellence Ireland.

While some of that trade was on the back of the World Cup in Brazil which tends to boost TV sales – many consumer opted for high-end HD and internet-ready models.

Retail chiefs say an extra 15 million hours of contract work will be needed to service demand from shoppers. That’s an increase of 8pc on last year.

Sales of luxury accessories at Brown Thomas now exceed pre-boom levels. The company has ploughed €9m into revamping the ground floor of its flagship Dublin store, including the roll out of a “Marvel Room” of high-end gift-oriented products.

The investment was a sign of returning confidence.

Managing director Stephen Sealey warned that retailers still won’t have it easy this Christmas, but there are big opportunities this year for retailers who can provide what shoppers want.

Brown Thomas generates 22pc of its annual turnover in the 24 days preceding Christmas Day. Throughout the retail trade, a strong Christmas trade is vital.

Arnotts’ boss Ray Hernan said there is growing optimism among retailers. He is convinced retail will turn a corner this Christmas.

“Last year we came in where we expected, but it was only due to a late surge that we did – and we were nervous. [Retailers] who I am talking to are optimistic that this Christmas will be better than last year,” he said. “I think that psychologically the budget helped as well.”

Mr Hernan also pointed to the strong increase in the store’s online sales as a sign of the recovery.

“Our online business is well up on last year, our Christmas products are starting to sell very strongly. We will hopefully be doing north of €3m sales online this year compared to about €2m last year, [which] would be about 3pc of our business for the year.”

Arnotts is targeting a 3pc rise in sales for the Christmas period. Chambers Ireland is forecasting a 7pc rise in retail sales this Christmas compared to last. It will be the best Christmas for retailers since 2007, according to chief executive Ian Talbot.

“Irish people aren’t prepared to be miserable anymore, they want to spend and to enjoy themselves,” he said.

Flat Christmas sales last year were a result of lingering uncertainty but this has come to an end, he declared.

“There were a couple of wobbles. There was still uncertainty out there so some people were keeping their money in their pockets. There is much greater certainty this year [and] retailers are definitely more hopeful.”

The neutral budget is expected to provide a further boost.

“In the last few years we’ve had shocks every few months, for example shocks to the euro and prices falling. Retailers saw that if there was a bad news story about the ECB it impacted on shopping levels in Ireland. This year is much more stable and our own Budget finally gave something back to people, which was very important,” said Mr Talbot.

At Harvey Norman there has been a significant pick-up in interest in technology products. The products it expects to sell best this year are iPads, Nespresso coffee machines, Garmin Vivofit fitness trackers, Babyliss’ Curl Secret styling tongs and Sonos wireless speakers.

“We are quite bullish about the upcoming Christmas trading period, everything feels right for a solid Christmas,” said Harvey Norman chief executive Blaine Callard.

“Increasingly for us the Christmas gift buying journey is multichannel, customers are shopping with us both online and in store. Quite often it’s a combination of both, with the gift search starting online and then either using our click-and-collect or home delivery service, or coming in store knowing exactly what they want. People are time poor and any service we can offer which makes gift buying easier will get significant take-up this Christmas.”

Harvey Norman Ireland sales were up 10pc for the quarter (July to September) compared with the same period last year.

“Footfall is up, sales are up, and given this result we are feeling bullish about the Christmas quarter. Online traffic and sales are also growing strongly for us, which is very encouraging.” Mr Callard said.

The Retail Excellence Ireland sales review for the third quarter was encouraging – with some minor blips.

Most sectors of the trade experienced some level of growth, though the weather did play a role in the results.

A dry, warm September hit fashion footwear with many women putting off buying that pair of coveted winter boots.

It led to a 3.2pc drop in footwear sales compared with the same period last year.

Meanwhile, sales of big ticket household appliances surged by 13.8pc – reflecting increased activity in the residential property market.

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