Retailers pin hopes on 'make or break' weekend's trade

Shops are facing into the “most crucial weekend ever” in the country’s retail history with Retail Excellence Ireland warning some stores face going to the wall unless they have a bumper few days ahead of Christmas.

With poor weather forecast for the weekend threatening footfall, Retail Excellence Ireland said data gathered so far indicated that the Christmas spend so far in 2013 was “flat against last year”.

REI chief executive David Fitzsimons said a trading analysis showed that any growth in consumer confidence had yet to translate to the tills, claiming matching last year’s figure so far was “disappointing”.

“We would have felt we would have done better,” he said.

“There is €80bn on deposit in Ireland and we would have thought some of that would be released but we have not seen it.”

The warm weather of the first two weeks of this month had a negative impact, he said, as it did not feel like Christmas, while last weekend’s miserable weather also deterred many shoppers at a time when an estimated €350m was due to be spent.

He said fashion and footwear had been particularly badly hit, with many people opting to leave buying those items to the post-Christmas and January sales. The tech sector is performing well, illustrated by the huge sales of smartphones and games consoles, while tablet sales have again increased.

However, going into the last weekend before Christmas, Mr Fitzsimons was in no doubt that it is make or break for many retailers.

“This is the most important weekend in the history of the retail sector [in Ireland],” he said, adding that, in the new year, 17 companies are preparing for examinership or similar arrangements.

“There are a lot of companies with backs to the wall,” said Mr Fitzsimons, adding it was hoped this would be a robust weekend that would help retailers push through into the new year. “If some are hit with 15%-20% back [on their target], it’s over.”

Many shopping trips in urban areas are now focused on larger shopping centres and retail parks, while €4bn this year has been spent online. However, people tend to shop locally in the days before Christmas, with the overall Christmas spend target of €2.2bn.

The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association yesterday called on consumers to “shop for Ireland”.

Isme chief executive Mark Fielding said: “Buying from locally owned businesses keeps money circulating closer to where you spend. By buying Irish we secure Irish jobs.”

Patrick King of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce said reports indicated an increase in footfall, with many businesses indicating a slight improvement in sales so far.

The chief executive of the Cork Chamber of Commerce, Conor Healy, said that retailers in the city were positive about shopping activity in recent weeks but added that it was important that there would be an uplift in the last few days before Christmas.

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