Calling retailers: Some dos and don’ts for the Christmas countdown

Don’t mislead with non-existing discounts; do offer better exchange rates; and do honour gift vouchers

A study should be done on the psychological behaviour of shoppers with vouchers; it would undoubtedly throw up some interesting insights. File photograph: Getty Images

A study should be done on the psychological behaviour of shoppers with vouchers; it would undoubtedly throw up some interesting insights. File photograph: Getty Images

 

It’s happened to me more than once lately – and the trend is unlikely to change. Yesterday I stepped out at lunchtime to visit a particular store for some pre-Christmas shopping, only to find that the outlet was no more.

In the latest casualty of the embattled retail environment, UK shoe seller Clarks has decided to shut its outlet on Dublin’s O’Connell Street, leaving another empty shop just across the road from the now defunct Clery’s department store – which at least has gotten into the spirit of the season with its Christmas windows, even if an empty shell lies behind.

Clarks says it has decided not to renew the lease on its store on O’Connell Street, because it no longer provided “the best possible offering and environment” to its customers.

It’s undoubtedly a tough time for retail: rising rates; intense competition from online outlets; and changing consumer spending habits have hit hard.

But until we can think of an alternative for our towns and cities we need shops to stay open. So as the festive shopping season ramps up, here are some dos and don’ts for retailers to keep their customers happy this Christmas.

Dublin’s Grafton Street in recent weeks after the Christmas shopping season had gotten into full swing. File photograph: Getty Images
Dublin’s Grafton Street in recent weeks after the Christmas shopping season had gotten into full swing. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Do offer proper discounts

I’m looking at you, Arnotts. It pains me to say this of a department store which has got retail right on so many levels but it also advertises some curious “discounts”.

For example, it has a Dyson V8 absolute cordless vacuum cleaner currently for sale, down from €569.95 to €399.95. Brown Thomas is at it too, offering the same vacuum for €400, down from €600. On the Dyson website however, the recommended retail price is guess how much? Yes €399. And these two are far from the only retailers offering curious discounts.

Do keep up to date with FX movements

It’s a chronic bugbear of mine how UK retailers routinely charge Irish customers considerably more for the same goods. Earlier this year The White Company came to Dublin, gracing Grafton Street with its Scandi-chic bed linen and promise of a better life if you fork out €20 for its cute little Christmas trees. But like others of its ilk, it levies a less than favourable exchange rate on its goods. The aforementioned mini tree, for example, costs just £15 in the UK, which translates to a mark-up of 20 per cent based on the current exchange rate. And if you’re buying a turkey with Marks & Spencer this Christmas, you could pay 27 per cent more for a turkey crown for six to eight people. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; it just couldn’t be 20 per cent more expensive to do business in Dublin than it is in London.

Fancy an M&S turkey this Christmas? It’ll cost you 27 per cent more on this side of the Irish Sea – despite a weaker sterling.
Fancy an M&S turkey this Christmas? It’ll cost you 27 per cent more on this side of the Irish Sea – despite a weaker sterling.

Don’t flood us with vouchers

A study should be done on the psychological behaviour of shoppers with vouchers; it would undoubtedly throw up some interesting insights, all of which the supermarkets are already familiar with. Like why you go into the supermarket for something for dinner and end up coming out with boxes of chocolates and mince pies, or opt for a fancier bottle of wine than your usual sub-€10 plonk, just to bring up your spend to the amount where you’ll warrant a €5 or €10 off voucher.

So it’s money off things you never wanted or needed in the first place. Dunnes Stores recently reclaimed its perch at the top of the supermarket rankings, and it’s no surprise given that you can’t get out of the shop without getting a voucher to entice you straight back in. Wouldn’t it be better for us if supermarkets could compete on price only?

Do get ‘click and collect’ right

When a retailer embraces allowing people to pick up goods purchased online for free in store, it can serve two purposes: It gets people into the shop, which means they might end up spending more; and it offers a service to its customers. But it has to be done right.

Brown Thomas offer such a service but its collection point is hidden away in the bowels of the department store – and many of its staff don’t seem to know where it is. And Smyths, which has a near monopoly on toys this Christmas, only allows you to buy five items with its “click and collect” service. As any parent of young children will tell you, five items will only get you started, which means you’ll still have to brave the packed aisles and checkouts.

Do honour gift vouchers

If a shop offers gift vouchers then it should always honour them if they continue to trade. When House of Fraser was taken over by Sports Direct earlier this year, the administrators put a lock-down on gift cards at its Dundrum store, pending the takeover. But despite the deal now having gone through, retail assistants at the store tell us they still won’t accept gift cards. New legislation on gift vouchers was due to be brought in before Christmas , but this has now been delayed, so consumers still have little protection.

Will UK retailer Sports Direct start selling its own brand sports ranges in House of Fraser?
Will UK retailer Sports Direct start selling its own brand sports ranges in House of Fraser?

Don’t mess with a proven product

It’s like when a beauty company discontinues your favourite lipstick, or changes the length of your chosen jeans. If it works why change it? Dundrum’s House of Fraser is said to be one of the most profitable outlets in the 59-strong chain of stores; so the prospect that its new owner Sports Direct could tamper with it is a concern. After all, a local newspaper in Cheltenham reported “rage” last week when its local House of Fraser started stocking Sports Direct brands including Lonsdale and Karrimor. So much for Mike Ashley’s intent to create a “Harrods of the high street” moaned shoppers.