At the launch of the €5.5m Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme were Stephen Creaner, Executive Director, Enterprise Ireland; Derek Moody, owner and Director, Great Outdoors and Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English TD. Photo: Maxwells photography

Shop early and shop safely for Christmas

During the pandemic our number one objective is everyone’s health and safety.

Through the coming months it’s important that we redouble our efforts to keep the spread of the virus down. So, I am asking you to play a small part in this by shopping early and shopping safely for Christmas.

Covid-19 has changed the way we do our weekly shop; it has changed how we buy gifts for our family, friends and loved ones. We now mask up, we keep a safe distance, and we keep our hands sanitized entering and leaving shops. At this stage, we miss what we took for granted before Covid when it comes to shopping.

To their credit, retailers across Cork, large and small, have worked hard to implement the public health guidelines in their stores and to ensure continued access to items for people. They introduced new measures to protect both customers and retail workers.

The sector has also shown great commitment and flexibility by changing its business models, refitting premises, retraining staff and coming up with new and innovate ways to continue to trade. Some have adopted new online business models to ensure the strong relationships they have built with their customers can continue.

Through the Retail Forum which I chair, I have seen first-hand throughout the crisis, strong evidence of how the sector is working hard, not only to trade through the global pandemic, but to emerge to recovery – stronger than before.

The response from shoppers all over the country has been incredible, and I have no doubt that this will be sustained for as long as this public health emergency requires it.

Retailers have gone above and beyond for their customers to ensure that the most vulnerable were looked after. They have supported the Government’s community call by initiating or increasing home delivery service, dedicated shopping hours for the vulnerable, and new ways of availing of goods via ‘click and collect’ services.

As a Government we have been fully aware of the ongoing need – in so far as possible to maintain retailing so that we, as a society, continue to have access to the goods we need - when we need them.

At the same time, with the growing number of Covid-19 infections in society at the present time, we now must redouble our efforts to keep the spread of the virus under control.

Achieving this balance will be all the more challenging to maintain in the context of the traditional build up to Christmas.

I would therefore encourage people to think about getting their Christmas shopping underway as early as possible this year. In this way, people will preserve and support the sector throughout this difficult time, but most importantly so that we can avoid unnecessary crowds come Christmas week.

Of course, there are many ways to shop. Indeed, online trading has been a lifeline to many businesses during this pandemic. My department introduced the Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme to support Irish-owned retail businesses to rapidly adapt and enhance their online shopping experience as they work within the public health measures.

For many retailers, developing their online store complements their retail store on the high street and helps to make their business more resilient for the long term. Digital transformation of the retail sector has been a policy goal for my department and retailers prior to the pandemic, but the pandemic has accelerated the drive to online.

The increased customers and revenue that can be secured online can make an important contribution to the retailer’s bottom line. It also provides consumers with more opportunities to support local businesses in their community, even when shopping online.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who shops and works in retail for standing up to Covid by public health guidelines. This has ensured we have continued access to the goods we need. So as the countdown continues, to help support our retailers in supporting us through Covid, I encourage readers to avoid the last-minute rush; and over the coming weeks to think about shopping early and shopping safely for Christmas.

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