Any fears that austerity might take the wind out of the sales were banished yesterday as bargain hunters flocked in their thousands to major stores and retail outlets around the country.
Traders reported strong sales figures as millions of euro and gift vouchers were exchanged at the nation’s tills.
Large queues formed outside several department stores in Dublin including over 150 brave souls outside Arnotts on Henry Street and a similar number at Brown Thomas on Grafton Street in advance of their 9am opening.
Neither were dozens of shoppers deterred from waiting patiently in line outside the Next outlet in the Dundrum Town Centre, despite its distinctly non-consumer friendly opening time of 6am.
In Dublin many of the city’s main pedestrian streets seemed quieter than a typical weekday — a fact explained by the large numbers of people actually inside the various shops.
While stores reported frantic activity in the first few hours of the St Stephen’s Day sales, the crowds eventually thinned out during the course of the day so that by mid-afternoon the mood was, in the words of one shop assistant, “bustling but not bothersome”.
While retailers are always prone to emphasise the positive and talk up business, there appeared to be a genuine air of confidence that 2012 Christmas sales will prove a boon for shop owners.
Traders claim last weekend was the busiest period for Irish shopping in the past five years, although sales figures remain around 30% down on levels reached during the peak of the Celtic Tiger economy.
David Fitzsimons, chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland, said the next few days will be crucial for the retail sector.
“The sales are incredibly important. We are going to see exceptional value especially for the big ticket categories such as flooring, furniture, consumer electronics, that kind of stuff.”
Mr Fitzsimons said early figures indicated that sales are up overall compared with Christmas 2011.
“The turnout of shoppers for the Christmas season is well ahead of expectations with retailers offering the very best value and service to consumers,” he said.
One unexpected bonus, particularly for Dublin retailers, was a large influx of shoppers from Northern Ireland during December due to the combined effect of the favourable sterling/ euro exchange rate and the “flags” protests close to the main shopping district in Belfast.
Relatively mild temperatures, despite a few rain showers, also helped draw shoppers into the city centre.
Arnotts retail director Leesa Kavanagh described the opening day of the store’s sales as “fantastic” with double-digit growth on 2011 figures.
Ms Kavanagh said many shoppers were attracted by offers of up to 50% off 30,000 pairs of shoes in Arnotts’ Shoe Garden, particularly the Coach brand, while other popular labels were Kurt Geiger, Carvela, Buffalo and Dune.
Arnotts also reported strong demand for designer linen, as well as causal menswear and business suits.
“Our winter sale offers our customers genuine value across a huge range of items. This is not a gimmicky sale at all,” said Ms Kavanagh.
A similar story was evident across the River Liffey where Brown Thomas managing director Stephen Sealey reported busy trading all day.
“Business in our accessory hall was manic right through until lunchtime,” said Mr Sealey who said sales were “considerably higher” than on St Stephen’s Day in 2011.
“We’ve gone for deeper markdowns on menswear and ladies wear with discounts of 60% or more on many labels and it’s paying off,” he added.
Some of the main attractions were a Stella McCartney designer scuba dress which was reduced from €2,295 to €850 and an Alexander McQueen leather jacket which was priced €495 — down from €1,270.
Meanwhile, huge queues gathered outside Mahon Point Shopping Centre and Opera Lane in Cork city yesterday as the post Christmas sales got under way.
Soundstore in Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork reported a steady stream of customers from when the shop opened at 11am. A spokeswoman for Soundstore said they were hoping for a busy and lucrative period over the next few days.
“Our shops in Wilton and Blackpool shopping centre’s are busier because of the [poor] weather but it is going well. It is bringing out a lot of people. There is a lot of hustle and bustle. Our sale on laptops is going very well. We also have sales on TV’s and electrical goods.”
Debenhams, New Look and River Island in Cork city centre all opened at 8am and reported brisk sales. Penney’s on St Patrick’ Street resuming trade three hours later and nearby Brown Thomas opened at 9am with strong sales in the cosmetics department.
With racing at a dozen British and Irish tracks yesterday, punters were also giving bookmakers one of their busiest periods of the year.
“It’s the second-busiest week for us, after Cheltenham of course, largely because of all the racing that’s going on. But there are also four match days in the English Premier League and that adds to business,” said a spokesperson for Paddy Power.
Gift of giving
Anyone looking for a new home for unwanted Christmas gifts could do worse than donate them to a leading homeless charity.
Crosscare, the social care agency of the Archdiocese of Dublin, yesterday launched their annual appeal for such presents which it will redistribute to the homeless in the run-up to Christmas 2013.
Staff at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral — located just off the city’s main thoroughfare on O’Connell Street — have made space at the crib to take in any unwanted gifts including clothing, toiletries books, CDs and DVDs.
The unwanted gifts are taken into storage by Crosscare who distribute them to homeless people and occupants of their residential projects.
Fr Damian O’Reilly, administrator of the Pro-Cathedral said: “What started off as a simple appeal five years ago has grown into a really significant effort.”
People can leave gifts in the crib in the Pro-Cathedral on Marlborough Street until Jan 6.
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