Major foreign retailers express frustration at length of Irish shutdown

Industry leaders warn longest retail lockdown in Europe is ‘costing investment’

Major international retailers have expressed frustration over the Government’s prolonged shutdown of the non-essential retail sector and warned it is costing investment.

French sports retailing giant Decathlon and Jysk, a Danish furniture retailer, have both criticised the impact lockdowns are having on their Irish expansion plans. Non-essential retailing has been shut for close to seven of the last 12 months, much longer than elsewhere in Europe.

Decathlon, known as the "Ikea of sports", opened its first large-format Irish store last year in Ballymun in Dublin. It says it has postponed two openings in Ireland this year due to the retail restrictions, which it says are the most severe it has encountered globally.

"Ireland currently has the toughest restrictions of any of the 59 countries in which we operate," said Bastien Grandgeorge, the chief executive of Decathlon Ireland.


“This has had a major impact on our plans for 2021, and we have had to delay store openings and local recruitment as a result. We want to invest massively in Ireland but unfortunately the current environment is proving to be particularly difficult.”

The company, which planned nine outlets when it entered the market, says it wants clarity from Government on when retailing will resume. It also offered space in the carpark of its Dublin outlet, located next to Ikea, to facilitate mass virus testing.

Jysk, which has nine stores here, entered the market in 2019 planning 15 outlets but later expanded its target to 40 due to the success of its early openings. In particular, it criticised the shutdown of construction, saying it will hamper its growth plans. Even before the pandemic, it was critical of delays.

"We face delay after delay, right from the start of the planning application process," said Roni Tuominen, who is in charge of Jysk in Britain and Ireland.

“In other parts of Europe, we can issue and sign a lease contract within two to four weeks, whereas in Ireland, this takes a minimum of 16 weeks. To achieve the volume of stores we want, we need to secure a steady flow of new locations… without the consistent delays and setbacks we currently face.”

‘Some certainty’

Duncan Graham, chief executive of lobby group, Retail Excellence, says "more retailers will follow suit" by also halting investment. The Government has suggested only click and collect may be allowed after the next lockdown review on April 5th, with no other timeframe provided.

“The Government says it wants to move from dates to data on reopening. In that case, how many cases a day does there have to be to facilitate reopening. We need some certainty,” said Mr Graham. “With newer market entrants such as Decathlon, there is bewilderment as this goes on. I think some retailers are wondering if they made the right decision by coming here.”

Mr Graham said that regional leaders of several retail companies that have invested here were finding it “difficult to explain” to their headquarters in Europe why the Irish restrictions are so much more severe than elsewhere.

He said 75,000 retail workers are on the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP), and said the situation is “dire”. He called for the immediate return of click and collect services and “some form of a roadmap for reopening”.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times