Ireland’s retail economy cautiously opens its doors

As Irish retail begins to reopen as part of the accelerated lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, the key message is to shop locally and support local businesses.

Across Ireland this morning (8 June), thousands of businesses will reopen after nearly three months as efforts to kickstart the Irish economy begin.

Retailers who have their own on-street entrances can resume trading, however stores in shopping centres will remain closed at least until 15 June when protocols aimed at stopping people from congregating in malls are put in place.

“Shop locally, shop safely and support local businesses in your community”

Among major retailers opening their doors today are Marks & Spencer, Harvey Norman, Smyth’s Toys.

Ikea’s flagship store in Ballymun as well as its click-and-collect store in Carrikmines also reopen today.

Brown Thomas will reopen its Grafton Street flagship on Wednesday and its Cork, Limerick and Galway stores on Thursday from 10.30am to 6pm.

Arnotts on Henry Street will also open its store on Wednesday.

Penneys, the high street fashion retailer, will reopen its Irish stores on 12 June.

Others, such as Eason’s and Lifestyle Sports, will reopen on a staggered basis. For example, just six out of 50 Lifestyle Sports shops will reopen today and similarly Eason’s will reopen six stores on a “trial basis” in Dun Laoghaire, Dungarvan, Swords, Douglas and Dundrum.

“The retail economy supports more jobs than any other sector and SMEs employ 65pc of the total national workforce,” said Jean McCabe, acting head of Retail Excellence Ireland.

“The recovery of Ireland is going to be based on the recovery of the retail and SME sector.”

But will retail ever be the same again?

The days of idly wandering into your favourite shops and sampling wares are still likely to be restricted as some retailers are opting for innovative safety measures to protect staff and customers.

“The Return to Work Safely Protocol must underpin how we now live and work with Covid, we must remain vigilant”

For example, Brown Thomas is implementing a virtual queuing system that will allow customers to join a queue virtually and receive a text message when they are good to enter. A ‘no touch’ policy will be on place on beauty products with testers available to view only.

According to The Irish Times, regional stores such as County Boutique in Nenagh and Ennis will resume trade via customer appointments and clothes will be delivered to customers’ homes to be tried on. Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway will restrict numbers allowed into the store to 12 people at a time while the Sofa Room on Leeson Street will see one customer at a time to ensure a relaxed experience and is operating an appointments system too.

While the reopening of retail favourites will be somewhat of a safety valve release for consumers, it must be borne in mind that while Ireland’s retail reopening – considered one of the most cautious in Europe – is happening with strict Covid-19 restrictions still in place.

Citizens may only travel up to 20km from their home and there are limits on outdoor or social gatherings.

While all retail is officially open, the word from Government is: “Shop locally, shop safely and support local businesses in your community.”

For employees it is still advised to work from home where possible and employers are being reminded they must adhere to the Return to Work Safely Protocols.

Farmers’ marts are also being reopened provided social distancing and strict hygiene can be maintained.

People are also being  urged to avoid using public transport where possible to leave space for essential workers and instead walk or cycle into city or town-centres.

Hotels and restaurants will be allowed to reopen on 29 June, weeks ahead of schedule, as part of measures to support the tourism sector. Hotels will be advised to place key cards onto guests’ phones, ban buffets and provide breakfast in the rooms.

Pubs that serve a substantial meal will be allowed to reopen on 29 June and hygiene measures will include strict monitoring of numbers allowed into establishments, people will need to stay away from the bar and remain at allotted tables. More guidance on these measures are expected in the coming days.

The ultimate phase will include the reopening of pubs that do not serve food on 20 July instead of 10 August.

“Why is now the right time? Because the data is going in the right direction,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, told a news conference on Friday.

The decision to reopen the economy comes as the number of Covid-19 related cases appears to be slowing. Ireland has reported 1,679 deaths out of total cases of 25,201.

Ibec CEO Danny McCoy said the decision to accelerate the phased reopening of the  Irish economy was  a “positive and sensible response.”

He said: “It is a strong endorsement of our collective effort and as we go back to business, leaders must prioritise the safety of our workforce, customers and suppliers. The Return to Work Safely Protocol must underpin how we now live and work with Covid, we must remain vigilant.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 8 June, 2020