Majority of Irish people uncomfortable shopping in cities until Covid-19 under control

Successful move to online trading in face of lockdowns has protected many retailers

Majority of Irish people uncomfortable in cities shopping until Covid-19 under control. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

Majority of Irish people uncomfortable in cities shopping until Covid-19 under control. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

 

A large majority of Irish people say they will feel uncomfortable shopping in towns and cities until Covid-19 is brought more fully under control, according to research published on Thursday morning.

The 2021 .IE Tipping Point research from the company behind Ireland’s country domain.ie and Digital Business Ireland is the second to analyse consumer and SME behaviour and attitudes since the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organisation last March.

It paints a gloomy picture for 2021 with just 45 per cent believing life will return close or completely to pre-Covid normality by the end this year with the remainder telling researchers life will be more or less the same as it was in 2020, or even more restricted.

However, a successful pivot towards online trading in the face of multiple lockdowns has protected many retailers from the worst economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, the report suggests.

Comfortable

It shows that just 23 per cent of consumers are currently fully comfortable shopping in their local town or city centre. A further 28 per cent said they would not feel comfortable until Covid-19 cases are much lower while 27 per cent said they would be uncomfortable until vaccines are available to the general adult population.

Meanwhile, 16 per cent said they will wait until the Government formally declares that social distancing and masks are no longer required while 6 per cent said they would will never feel comfortable shopping in-store on their local high street again.

Fewer consumers than last year anticipate doing the bulk of their shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores over the coming 12 months with 42 per cent saying they would do most of their shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores this year, down from 48 per cent in 2020.

The 2020 .IE Tipping Point report, published last summer, showed that 53 per cent of consumers reported doing most of their online shopping with Irish SMEs compared to 47 per cent on sites based overseas.

International

The new report shows that this figure has swung back to international retailers with 49 per cent saying they have done most of their shopping with Irish companies since the start of the pandemic compared to 51 per cent with international retailers.

“While vaccines offer Ireland a way out of lockdown, until a critical mass is reached and the population is immunised, our economy and society are set to remain in a state of flux,” said David Curtin, Chief Executive of .IE. “This flux is accelerating major trends in how consumers spend and how SMEs sell their goods and services.”

He said that Irish consumers want to support local businesses through a difficult period, “but SMEs can’t expect that goodwill to last forever. A stable, long-term e-commerce strategy cannot be built on crisis solidarity alone,” said Mr Curtin.

The Secretary General of Digital Business Ireland Lorraine Higgins said the the future of business was “omni-channel, with a physical and digital footprint. It is important to stress that these concepts are not mutually exclusive; what’s bad for one permeates the other. Therefore, adequate policy responses are needed to ensure a robust shopping landscape where online and bricks-and-mortar co-exist.”

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