Black Friday has become Black November for Irish retailers

Zero footfall will be a disaster for many despite online shopping

Shoppers on Henry Street, Dublin,  before Level 5 restrictions  come into place at midnight on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Shoppers on Henry Street, Dublin, before Level 5 restrictions come into place at midnight on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Love it, hate it, or be genuinely nonplussed by it, Black Friday has become an annual fixture in the Irish retail sector.

The sales event – an imported US tradition that takes place the day after America’s Thanksgiving holiday – serves as a useful signal booster. This year, however, Black Friday may be dark indeed for retailers forced to close their physical stores under Level 5 restrictions that Retail Excellence has described as “baffling”. Devastating, they certainly are.

Scheduled for November 27th, Black Friday will arrive near the tail end of the planned six-week shutdown of “non-essential” retail businesses.

Indeed by the time it comes round we will have a clearer sense of the misery wracking the sector as more and more shops make staff redundant and edge closer to permanent shuttering. The three weeks of the Christmas trading period that remain may double as an “everything must go” sale for some.

For sure, Black Friday is also the hook for an explosion in discount-driven ecommerce. This magnet for much sneering has proven an effective starting gun for big-ticket purchases in recent years.

But Irish retailers are up against it in their bids to compete with international operations of much vaster scale. And even if they weren’t, online and offline shopping are – for now – often interrelated practices, with online browsing fuelling in-store purchases and vice versa. Zero footfall will be a disaster for many.

And what of those retailers with long-established physical presences in, say, Dublin or Cork city centres who manage to get their ecommerce ducks in a row?

It will be hard to begrudge them any revenue that cushions them from the worst effects of the appalling Covid-19 year. But if they do coin it online from consumers desperate to treat themselves, the next step may be to review the logic of maintaining high-cost leases.

Overseas-owned chains, who can quite easily decide not to bother with the Republic anymore, could leave a trail of empty units. Indeed, once thriving city centres already seemed utterly beleaguered before Level 5.

After six weeks consumers’ pent-up demand will be released on to the streets. But then what? The future looks forlorn.

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