The Irish book and stationery retailer Eason recorded a 31 per cent rise in ecommerce revenue over the six-week Christmas trading period last year, and its online store is now its second largest in revenue terms behind the company's flagship branch on O'Connell Street in Dublin.
This jump in online sales increased group turnover by 1.5 per cent, according to a letter sent to shareholders recently by Eason's chairman, David Dilger. He described the company's online performance over Christmas as a "good result given price competition from UK websites". In the 11 months to the end of December Eason's online sales rose by 22 per cent.
Mr Dilger said Eason’s sales in the Republic rose by 4 per cent overall during the Christmas period, with “books delivering the majority of this growth”.
In the North, however, its overall like-for-like sales declined by 1 per cent, although books sales were 1 per cent higher. Eason is planning to close its shops in Newry and Craigavon, as “we could not successfully come to an agreement on suitable and sustainable lease terms for the two stores”.
Retail up, wholesale down
On a like-for-like basis, total group revenue for the 11 months to the end of December was “broadly in line” with last year’s, with growth in its retail and online channels being offset by declines in franchise and wholesale.
A 6 per cent decline in newspapers and magazines was offset by growth in its card and stationery categories in the 11 months to December.
Overall, retail in the Republic was up 2.2 per cent on 2016. Physical stores were down 1.5 per cent on a like-for-like basis but up 1 per cent when the impact of a new company-operated outlet on St Stephen’s Green, in Dublin, and a store in Limerick that opened in November were taken into account.
“This was a reasonable performance given the significant sterling-based price deflation in the first half of the year,” Mr Dilger said.
The Eason chairman said the retailer continues to face a number of significant challenges to its business model. “Online shopping has seen a stepped change in consumer behaviour across all non-grocery retail,” he told shareholders. “Convenience and value, stemming in particular from a continuing weak British pound, seem to be the key drivers of this accelerated trend, which has impacted customer footfall, particularly in shopping centres, and presented challenges for our own stores.”
He said Eason was also affected last year by a “weaker book publishing schedule” compared with 2016, which included titles by the former Ireland rugby captain Paul O’Connell and the broadcaster Graham Norton.
Mr Dilger noted that a number of changes had been made to its shops to reflect customer feedback and that a click-and-collect service would be fully implemented in 2018.