Retailers coping with third lockdown
As businesses come to terms with the third lockdown, one Cavan retailer is calling for a more streamlined approach for government support. Ruth Leddy, proprietor of Sally West, emphasised that she was not knocking the supports available but said mounting paperwork was a disincentive in some cases.
Her comments come following last week’s Government announcement on the continued closure of schools and new restrictions for the construction sector, travel and retail, in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions included banning ‘click and collect’ services for non-essential retailers (see advert on page 11).
Ruth says restrictions are a necessary measure to deal with COVID-19: “I understand the rationale behind it. The thing is to kill this off once and for all. It’s ‘go hard or go home’. There can be no blurred lines. I was disappointed they did not make the call earlier. It would have been easier on us if they said there will be no January sales,” she says.
The Sally West proprietor says some supports offered to business need a more streamlined application process: “With Brexit there is a mountain of paperwork. I feel I don’t have the multitasking skills to apply for grants, keep my head above water in the shop and maintain the end-of-year paperwork.”
She commends the business supports in place, but says her customers are what will determine her future: “I am not knocking the supports. They have been vital, but the only thing that will pull us out of this is customer loyalty. That was very evident at Christmas when people came in and actively spent money in the town. If there are campaigns to reaffirm that when we return to normal, and the retailers back that up with good product and service, then there is room for positivity. I am really grateful for customer loyalty.”
Ruth says the last year has accelerated a clear trend: “The curve is towards going online. That’s complimentary to what we offer. What we do is ‘personal service’, there’s a social aspect to shopping. A lot of my online sales are local, that’s part of the customer loyalty acknowledging the personal service we provide. It’s about building on that, you hope that repeat custom comes from good service even though you are not personally serving the shopper online.”
With that in mind, Ruth has been steadily building her online presence: “I am in the shop at the moment and about to make a video to promote some of the offers we have online. It’s about entertainment and keeping contact with our customers.”
Click and deliver services are allowed continue, but this is far from an ideal situation: “If people are buying in January, they don’t want to pay extra for delivery. Losing the click and collect was a bit of a killer,” David Molloy of DT One Menswear said.
David says it’s difficult to be competitive in the online environment: “We are selling online. Everything has to be posted out. That is an extra charge, so if your are selling at a sale price, which is the January norm, you have to have the price even lower to move stock.”
David is missing the “personal service” part of his business: “That is my biggest problem selling online. Menswear is very personal. We talk to the customer, we know what they are looking for. We know our customers and, by talking to them, we can help them to find what they want. Basically we are missing our customers.”
DT One still offers customer services: “I can’t see retail open until the third week in March, this is going to drag out. Our Spring/Summer wear arrives in the next two or three weeks. There will be someone in store between 12 and four every day for one-on-one appointments. This allows us to deal with emergency situations, like clothing needs for a funeral.”
The DT One proprietor speculates on the future of the shopping experience. “Are weddings going to take off again? Will there be as many people at them? The day of the big wedding may be finished. We used to have lads running in to us at one o’clock during the wedding season asking for a shirt and tie to match a suit. We would iron it and have them ready to go to drink pints. That’s gone for now. We also miss debs, they were a big loss. Young men getting a suit for the occasions. We just want that to return,” David says.
Although the measures are set to be reviewed at the end of the month the likelihood is that there are another two and a half months of restrictions in place. This will place the future of “non essential retail services” very much in the hands of the customers.
The duration of the current restrictions is a matter for conjecture, but Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was not optimistic in his assessment of the timeframe for return to service saying: “If I was running a business right now, I’d be considering the possibility that I’d be closed until the end of March.”