Eason reports record online revenues but store sales well below pre-Covid level

Company’s like-for-like revenues in stores 34% lower than before coronavirus pandemic

Irish books retailer Eason recorded a 12.5 per cent rise in its turnover last year as Covid lockdown restrictions were removed but its revenues were still just under 10 per cent off pre-Covid levels, shareholders have been told by chairman David Dilger.

At store level, Eason’s like-for-like revenues were 34 per cent lower than before the pandemic, as the sector continued to feel the effects of changes in consumer behaviour. Against this, Eason’s online business reported record revenues and “high levels of profitability” and has retained much of its market share since Covid restrictions were lifted, Mr Dilger said.

Eason’s turnover from continuing operations was €104 million in the year to the end of January 2022, compared with €93 million in the previous year. He said the company’s operating profit for the year was at its “strongest level for several years” due to changes in the business.

Mr Dilger said the State’s wage subsidy supports, rent concessions from landlords, pay cuts taken by staff and management, and other cost reductions were “critical” to “ensuring the viability of all our retail outlets” during the year.

He said the specialist Dubray books business, which Eason acquired in February 2020, continues to “perform well”. The Dubray business was required to close due to Covid restrictions for the first four months of 2022 and did not qualify for wage supports beyond the midyear point. Most of Dubray’s retail staff were laid off during the closures with all of its revenues coming from online.

New Dubray stores opened in Cork and Dundrum in November and the business had a “good Christmas”, shareholders were informed.

Mr Dilger said footfall both in shopping centres and the high street is well down on 2019 levels, although there has been a “significant improvement” in average spend. City centre footfall was down 35 per cent while non-city centre locations were down 4 per cent.

Supply chain issues

On current trading, Mr Dilger said the retail environment remains “challenging”, citing the impact of soaring inflation and supply chain issues. He said Eason’s turnover between March and May was “very challenged” but has started to recover recently. Some 30 staff signed up for a voluntary redundancy scheme in May as the business continues to “monitor” its cost base.

Eason has agreed a pay deal with its unions out to November 2023, which included a one-off lump sum payment in “recognition of the contribution made by staff during the Covid period”.

Eason has also taken over its franchise store in Carlow and plans two similar deals in the third quarter. And it has agreed terms for a Dubray store on Henry Street in Dublin while work on its new Cork city outlet is ongoing and it should open in September. In addition, the company is planning a relaunch of the Dubray website in the coming weeks.

Mr Dilger said Eason was on track to deliver on its financial targets for the current year but added that the full effects of the war in Ukraine have yet to “unfold” and will “create significant pressures over the coming months”.

“I am certain that we are doing everything without our control to mitigate these impacts,” he said.

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock is Business Editor of The Irish Times