There were 1,600 people queuing outside Next in the Dundrum Town Centre before it opened its doors at 6am on St Stephen's Day. A further 300 people had gathered outside River Island on Grafton Street ahead of its opening two hours later. Similar scenes were replicated outside retailers across the country as normally sensible people appeared to abandon all reason to go in search of bargains.
The very notion of the St Stephen's Day sales is fairly new to Ireland; until five years ago virtually no shops opened until December 27th at the very earliest. Since 2007, however, more and more retailers have felt obliged to come back to work after just one day off to try and get a share of the festive spending splurge.
A social media campaign against the early start to the sales was launched in Ireland this year as an act of solidarity with retail staff, but the keyboard warriors failed to mount anything more than a half- hearted protest which was ignored by tens of thousands of people anxious to swap the comfort of their homes for the madness of crowds.
The Christmas sales have traditionally delivered stories of massive savings made by hardy souls. Back when Budget Travel was the State’s leading travel agent and before the internet rendered it irrelevant, people would queue outside its flagship shop in Dublin for days at the end of December to buy once-in-a-lifetime trips to Disneyland for tuppence.
Then there were always men to be found queuing outside department stores determined to buy sofas for a fiver. Such stories are becoming increasingly rare and the massive bargains that made all the queuing seem – possibly – worthwhile were harder to come by this year.
According to Next, many of its customers were looking for bargains in the children’s clothes section. But just how much could any one person save and were the sacrifices worth it? In pure financial terms, it seems not.
The retailer sells padded jackets for young girls for about €50 each at full price while dresses cost about €30. Trousers cost not much more than €15 each while three pairs of leggings can be bought for the same price. The average price of shoes is about €40.
If a shopper wanted to buy a complete Next wardrobe for a six-year-old girl, including seven dresses, two pairs of shoes, a couple of coats as well as all the underwear, tights, socks and pyjamas the child would need, they could probably buy the lot at full price for less than €500.
Someone taking full advantage of the sale then and getting the same wardrobe at a discount of 50 per cent would save themselves no more than €250. Now while a saving of €250 is not to be sniffed at, it seems hard won and perhaps not worth ruining Christmas Day for – no matter how nice the frocks are.