Reasons to be cheerful: by Duncan Graham, Retail Excellence

Reasons to be cheerful: by Duncan Graham, Retail Excellence
No Repro Fee. Duncan Graham, Newly Appointed Managing Director of Retail Excellence Ireland. Pic. Robbie Reynolds

Duncan Graham, managing director of Retail Excellence, outlines the causes for optimism in 2022.

We will all be glad to see the back of 2021. After a year once again dominated by Covid-19 mayhem, businesses have had to endure months of enforced closures, serious staffing issues, and a significant drop in footfall particularly in our cities, towns and villages.

This disruption has been made worse by a steep rise in the cost of shipping containers, rising inflation, severe weather events such as Storm Barra, and hauliers’ protests that have affected Dublin city in particular recently.

Retail operates side by side with the hospitality industry and restrictions imposed recently are having an added impact on footfall and on what people buy. Furthermore, the significant decrease in festive activity for the hospitality industry this Christmas has hit boutiques and fashion stores very hard.

Next year, it stands to reason that the cost of goods will rise across most retail sectors. Retailers have done everything they can to avoid passing on increases to consumers this Christmas, but it is inevitable that they will have to do so next year in order to pay the bills.

Cause for optimism in 2022

As we look to next year, however, there is cause for optimism if the right supports are put in place. Despite all the problems that this year has brought, the bounceback came in May and business was buoyant for most of the second half of the year. Suburban shopping centres and provincial towns and villages benefited the most from savings that had been building up during the periods of enforced lockdown.

The retail industry is now fully up and running and retailers need staff to meet the increased demand even as we find ourselves staring at an uncertain start to 2022 with the shadow of Omicron looming large.

Renewed focus on the customer experience

Once the Covid situation stabilises next year the

needs to be wound down quickly and we need to incentivise people to move to this vibrant and dynamic industry.

There are careers to be made in retail that are varied, interesting and rewarding and we need to work hard to attract talent. One of the legacies of the pandemic is a new, inexperienced retail workforce that need to develop new skills and with that will come opportunities for new ways of doing business. Of course there will be a renewed focus on the customer experience and the best retailers will be the ones who will offer the ‘wow factor’ in everything they do – be it online or in person.

It is clear that our cities have suffered the hardest Covid hit in recent months, with tourist numbers down significantly and shoppers preferring to stick to suburban shopping centres rather than travel to cities, towns and villages.

Retail Excellence has consistently called for initiatives from city councils and Government to get people back to our cities – not only to shop but also to live, work and socialise. We hope to see these calls answered in the year ahead.

Likewise, there are still many vacant commercial properties across the country that could and should be filled by new businesses. Property owners, retailers and local authorities need to work together proactively to attract businesses, fill these units and return our urban centres into places that people can be proud of and want to spend time in.

Irish retail operating at a world-class level

Despite operating during the worst trading environment in living memory, Irish retail has proven itself to be operating at a truly world-class level. We can boast visually stunning businesses like Brown Thomas and Arnotts, and outstanding service from stores like Fabiani in Longford, and Fervour and Hue in Cork.

We have businesses that are trying something different and appealing to more than just the local population like Frank’s Place in Wexford. There are also plenty of retailers that have that ‘wow’ factor like Windy Ridge Garden Centre in Dublin and the Retail Excellence Retailer of the Year 2021, Arboretum in Carlow. There are hidden gems of retail across the country ready to be explored.

Retailers have proven how adaptable they are

Retailers have proven time and again through the pandemic how adaptable they are and we know that Irish customers appreciate and desire their retail therapy. The future will be a blended approach of physical and digital retail; we will always want to shop, and we will shop with all our senses both in-store and online.

Retailers will continue to safeguard customers and staff regardless of what lies ahead, and we know that customers will continue to support Irish and buy local, even as the trend to online continues.

Now, more than ever, the future is uncertain, but thankfully we have strong foundations on which we can recover and thrive next year.

Duncan Graham is Managing Director of Retail Excellence

To read the full article in Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer, click HERE.