'Shocking’ retail sales figures strengthen calls for reopening the economy, industry says

New figures from the Central Statistics Office detail the toll the pandemic and its consequent lockdowns have had on traders
'Shocking’ retail sales figures strengthen calls for reopening the economy, industry says

A deserted Grafton St in Dublin city centre is a potent symbol of the damage being done to retailers all across the country by the pandemic lockdown. Business representatives are calling for support for the sector in the wake of 'shocking' new CSO figures. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A predictably huge drop in the volume and value of retail sales since the turn of the year has strengthened the need for a clear roadmap towards the reopening of non-essential shops, according to industry groups.

New Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show there was a near 22% monthly drop in the volume of retail sales in January, with the value of sales down by almost 20% compared to December. 

On a year-on-year basis, sales volumes fell by just over 14% in January, and values slumped by almost 16%, according to the CSO.

'Retailers need urgent action'

While the figures were predictable, given the return to strict lockdown restrictions at the start of the year, they underline the need for action, the industry has said.

“The figures are shocking, but they won’t come as a huge surprise to anyone involved in the retail sector,” said Retail Excellence chief executive Duncan Graham.

Retail is in a terrible space and we are dismayed at the lack of any clear direction from the Government as to how we can move forward.

Every major industry — from construction to hospitality — reacted with disappointment to the Government’s revised Living with Covid-19 plan, last week, which featured nothing to soothe business concerns.

Retail Excellence reacted by demanding “urgent action” to bring some hope to shopowners. 

A return of click-and-collect and appointment shopping services feature on its wish-list, ahead of an ultimate reopening of non-essential shops by the beginning of May.

Reopening retail

“Last week, we urged the Government to immediately reinstate click-and-collect — not as an end in itself, but as the first step in an effort to reopen retail,” said Mr Graham.

“We also identified a number of milestones on a journey to reopen non-essential retail in a controlled and safe manner. These [CSO] figures show just how urgent it is that we start that journey now,” he said.

Measuring the impact the Covid crisis has had on the retail industry, the CSO said last April saw the highest monthly decline in retail sales to date since the pandemic began.  That month saw a near 36% drop. 

Conversely, last June — in the immediate aftermath of the lifting of the first lockdown — the highest monthly volume increase, of 41.4%, was noted.

Switch to online shopping 

“The Covid-19 pandemic, and the restrictions imposed, had a significant impact on the retail sector in 2020," said CSO statistician Stephanie Kelleher.

"The percentage of online sales in Irish registered enterprises remained stable since records began in 2018 at between 2.5% and 4% prior to the impact of Covid-19. In April, the percentage transacted online increased to 15.3%. 

"While overall retail sales fell in April, the closure of non-essential shops and outlets saw many consumers move online to purchase goods. As traditional shopping re-opened, the proportion of transactions online fell," she said.

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