Irish shoppers love of retail shines through as online shopping interest wanes, but concerns around town centres remain.
Hassle of returns and delivery delays among factors leading to decline in interest in online shopping
Irish tradition of ‘going to town’ is alive and well with 6 in 10 people preferring to shop in-store
Four in ten (43%) of shoppers are spending more in their local community than prior to the pandemic
42% of the public are prepared to pay higher prices to support local businesses
New research from Penneys reveals that post-pandemic, Irish consumers are returning to towns and shopping centres as the online shopping peak wanes. The retailer has published the second edition of its Penneys ‘Pulse of the Nation' Index, in partnership with Amárach Research, which shows that almost half of consumers in Ireland (46%) are now less interested in shopping online today.
From the hassle of returns to sustainability concerns, Irish consumers are voting with their feet and heading back out shopping: 6 in 10 (61%) members of the public now feel shopping in-store is more enjoyable than online, preferring to put their money into their local towns and communities, although many have raised concerns that these need investment and reinvigorating.
Online buzz wanes
The 1,200 research participants were quizzed about why their interest in online shopping had waned, with a range of revealing responses. Some of the top reasons flagged included the hassle of returning items bought online (55%); that the products they had purchased were not as advertised (45%); increased costs associated with returning goods bought online (39%); experienced delays in receiving goods or did not receive their product at all (31%); or have concerns about the carbon footprint associated with making returns (21%.)
These factors are reflected by a pendulum swing in the levels of online shopping recorded. While Irish shoppers went online as a result of the pandemic, it seems that change did not become permanent and since lockdown lifted, as shopping behaviour has reverted back to its pre 2020 pattern. The Central Statistical Office (CSO) reported that only 7% of clothing, footwear and textile sales from Irish registered companies were online purchases in 2019, but this spiked to 66% of all sales for the category in April 2020. Since that peak however, there has been a shift back with online sales of clothing, footwear and textile sales accounting for just 8% of overall turnover in February of this year .
The Penneys Pulse of the Nation Index research also reveals that the Irish tradition of ‘going to town’ is alive and well. Irish consumers want to spend time and money in their community, with 79% of people preferring to shop locally in their town when they can, while 86% believe that busy town centres are vital for the health of the local economy.
Trends like hybrid working are providing a boost to the local economy across the country, with almost half (43%) of shoppers spending more in their community than prior to the pandemic. A sense of local pride is evident, with 42% stating that they were even prepared to pay higher prices to support local businesses – a clear signal of the importance that they place on a thriving local economy.
The research also identified a range of factors why some people prefer shopping in-store including physically trying on items (72%); the ease of returns (54%); not having to wait for items to be delivered (47%); and the overall social outlet of shopping with family or friends (32%.)
Making communities better places to live and work
However, the research reflects recent challenges across many regional towns with people citing concerns around derelict buildings (57%), businesses closing down (51%) and anti-social behaviour (41%) ranking as the top three issues in their area.
While there is a strong desire for these issues to be addressed, there is also positivity with 68% saying they are optimistic about their community. The top five improvements people would like to see in their area are more public amenities such as benches, playgrounds, bins (54%), more cafés or restaurants (37%), more clothing/footwear/accessories stores (37%), improved cycling infrastructure (32%) and more specialist stores such as butchers or bakeries (31%).
Commenting on the launch of the latest Penneys Pulse of the Nation Index, Minister of State at the Department of Housing and Heritage, Kieran O’Donnell TD said; “I would like to commend Penneys for the second volume of its ‘Pulse of the Nation' Index. It offers valuable insights into how Government and business can work together to deliver a vibrant high street.
“The National Town Centre First Office and local authorities will work with local businesses to ensure our towns have the tools, resources and investment they need to tackle major issues such as dereliction and vacant properties highlighted in this research. This will re-invigorate retail and promote urban living, support the local economy through the creation of liveable and vibrant urban spaces. Key to the success of this is for people to shop locally; Penneys, who has stores all around the country, act as a real draw for shoppers into our towns, which means all local retailers benefit from the extra footfall.”
Discussing the Irish public’s passion for retail, Damien O’Neill, Head of Penneys Ireland and Northern Ireland, said: “Penneys has a footprint right across the country through our 37 stores across City centres and regional towns, so we see the importance of retail in Irish everyday life. Retail plays a key role in building vibrant and thriving communities as key retailers attract shoppers and drives footfall, which creates a positive uplift for surrounding businesses, supports employment and helps breathe life into towns and villages across Ireland. We see and hear every day the Penneys ‘Halo Effect’ from our customers and landlords. For example, our new Tallaght store has helped increase footfall by 25% in The Square Shopping Centre and in Athlone, 45% of visitors to Golden Island Shopping Centre come mainly to shop at Penneys, and no doubt visit some other stores too.”
Commenting on the research findings, Amárach Chairman Gerard O’Neill, added: “The latest Penneys Pulse of the Nation Index offers a fascinating insight into where and why consumers spend their money, the future vibrancy of our town centres, and the opportunities presented by the digital economy. A narrative had emerged that the future of retail was online, but we have seen over the last eighteen months that this is much more complex with trends reverting to something similar to pre-2020. The Irish public is clearly still a huge fan of the in-store experience and with more people spending time in their communities to hybrid working, it represents an opportunity to revitalise towns and villages across Ireland.”
The Penneys Pulse of the Nation Index Volume Two report can be downloaded here.