Retail suffered rolling closures – with shops having to face up to the challenge of selling online in order to stay afloat
With all but essential retail forced to close at a moment’s notice in March, the failure of most in the sector to offer a reliable online sales channel was exposed – with international platforms like Amazon benefitting at the expense of hamstrung local firms.
And while the first lockdown was a hammer blow to retailers in the short-to-medium term, it has acted as an accelerant to what were already well-established consumer trends.
But within weeks of the first restrictions being introduced, the innovation and adaptability within the industry was on display, too.
Retailers and suppliers around the country developed ad-hoc sales channels, or shifted their focus to ensure they could continue to trade in some form or another.
Online platforms were quickly established, click and collect services introduced and various campaigns urged shoppers to buy Irish wherever they could.
All of that meant that the imposition of Level 5 restrictions in October – though still extremely difficult – had far less of an impact on retailers than the first lockdown that began in March.
It also meant that a greater share of Ireland’s online spend began to stay in the country – though there is still a long way to go before retailers here can truly go toe-to-toe with the likes of Amazon and Asos.
There are some retailers that have benefitted from the pandemic.
Grocers have seen a boom in sales as shoppers were forced to replace work lunches and nights out with home-cooked meals and baking experiments.
Garden centres, DIY shops and furniture retailers have also seen a spike in sales, as those working from home decided to finally undertake that upgrade they’ve been thinking about for years (with the untapped 2020 Holiday Fund being repurposed in the process).
For others, though, the pandemic was a final, unwelcome push into non-viability.
Many smaller retailers around the country have closed their doors for good in 2020, while some big-name brands have also disappeared from the high street – or at the very least retrenched.
Having struggled for years, in April Debenhams liquidated its Irish operation – and in the process sparked a row with former workers that ran on through the year.
The withdrawal from Ireland was part of a rescue plan by administrators in Debenhams HQ – but that, too, has faltered, with the entire business also now on the verge of collapse.
Elsewhere, fashion retailers Oasis and Warehouse also ended their tenure on the Irish high street, as did Mothercare and Cath Kidston.
Meanwhile Pamela Scott, Monsoon, Accessorize, and travel company TUI all unveiled plans to scale back their bricks and mortar operations here, with more blood likely to be seen on the high street in the new year.