Bargain hunters — assemble! The great sales rush began in earnest yesterday as many households shook off the Christmas Day fun with a bout of retail therapy.

As hordes of shoppers descended on stores up and down the county, Retail
Ireland said the sector could be on course for its best sales period since the peak of the boom back in 2007.

There are some clouds on the horizon — including much online retail business going overseas and border areas feeling the pressure due to weak sterling — but Retail Ireland said the overall mood in the sector is positive.

It certainly seemed to be a view shared by shoppers.

The traditional staging posts reported strong business, with the rush through the doors at Brown Thomas on Grafton St, Dublin, preceded by some customers taking their place in the queue from 5.30am.

Brown Thomas Stores director Mark Limby said the St Stephen’s Day rush was also notable for a new trend — a huge number of young men heading to menswear.

“We have been busier than the past number of years,” he said.

“The big difference is there are still a lot of people going to accessories, getting handbags, but the big change is a lot of younger guys, aged 18 to 28, who would typically come much later in the day — I would say 70% of the queue, and they were all going to menswear.”

While the sale in-store got under way at 9am, the online sale started 12 hours later.

Mr Limby said the Brown Thomas regional stores were still performing well but that its Dublin outlets were steaming ahead, so much so that the Grafton St shop had a record non-sales day on December 23.

At Arnotts, the mood was equally buoyant. Managing director Donald McDonald said: “There was a great atmosphere in the store this morning as approximately 200 customers charged through the doors seeking out the best offers on their favourite brands. Christmas trade has been very strong right up to closing time on Christmas Eve and the first day of the sale is now well ahead of last year both instore and online.”

Debenhams on Cork’s St Patrick St also had a few early risers waiting official opening, but a supervisor said she expected business to pick up even more in the afternoon. She said it had been the busiest Christmas period for a number of years and particularly during the week of Black Friday.

At Mahon Point Shopping Centre in Cork, the duty manager reported exceptionally busy rates of trade as soon as the doors opened for the sales.

It all signalled what could prove to be the best Christmas period for the retail
sector in a decade, with Retail Ireland, the Ibec representative group, claiming a strong performance over the festive season with most businesses on track to hit or exceed pre-Christmas sales growth targets.

Retail Ireland had predicted industry-wide sales value growth in the region of 2.6%, to €2,654 per household, in its pre-Christmas Retail Monitor, with indications that the industry is on track to hit this target.

However, Retail Ireland also said there had been “a significant distortion in trade in the border counties” as a weak sterling attracted some shoppers to the North.

Thomas Burke, director of Retail Ireland, said: “While certain categories are feeling the impact of this pressure, on the whole, retailers are reporting steady, if unspectacular growth on the same period in 2016.

“Most remain on track to achieve pre-Christmas sales growth targets which would result in the best Christmas performance by the sector in close to a decade.

“That said, sales will likely remain somewhat off the 2007 peak, and for some retailers it will be a close run thing, with the performance in days immediately post-Christmas, and the January sales, likely to be crucial in terms of the final outcome.”

Other trends noted in the run-up to Christmas included a late surge in sales, particularly in the five days before Christmas Day, heavy discounting in food lines, and Dublin stores performing better than their regional counterparts.

Elsewhere, the Bank of Ireland Consumer Pulse index eased back in December to 94.7 from 95.9 in November, indicating that households were a little less positive about the buying climate, although overall the index was up compared with the same period last year.


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