The Covid-19 pandemic has left Irish retail facing a case of ‘back to the future’.
A leading retailer warned that while an internet presence and online sales are important, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution to the many challenges now facing small- to medium-scale traders across cities, towns and even villages.
Tom Murphy of Murphy’s Menswear in Cork said that taking a lead from Irish traders of the 19th and early 20th centuries is what he believes will help small and medium stores survive by offering a unique community service that online sales simply cannot match.
“I know everyone is rushing to push online sales as if that will be the solution to all their problems,” he said. “It will be important for many people but I don’t think it is the only option.
“There is fierce competition online and my concern is that many small- and medium-sized retailers will be fighting over the crumbs with the big multiples.
“But I’ve found over recent months that old-fashioned service and customer support is what makes all the difference. It offers people a personal touch – and you don’t get that online.”
Murphy’s menswear has been trading in Cork city centre since 1938. Tom said that the store was now benefiting from having dealt with generations of families – and knowing customers by their first names, not to mention their individual tastes.
“We deal with school uniforms so we know our customers very well. We have also been offering home deliveries.”
The key with home deliveries, he said, was that, when conducted with personal service and good customer support, they could lead to follow-up and spin-off business. “It is offering people old-fashioned service – they get quality goods, they can have them personally delivered to their front door and they have whatever customer support they need.
“All from the comfort of their own home. I have found that this kind of old-fashioned service generates far more follow-up business than you get online.”
He said it was a type of service that Irish shops traditionally specialised in dating back to the early 20th century. In some cases, customers contact Tom and his staff, inform them precisely what they want and it is then delivered right to their home that evening.
Tom’s store closed last Wednesday evening as part of the Level 5 lockdown, but he will be operating behind closed doors for a number of days to service a number of weddings.
After the lockdown, Tom believes that old-fashioned service will offer small, family-run businesses the key to survival in the post Covid-19 world.
“I don’t think you can blame anyone for these restrictions. Controlling the virus and saving lives is something everyone supports.
“But the knock-on effect for small- and medium-sized traders, not to mention family businesses, is going to be very, very tough.
“The sad truth is that a lot of businesses are not going to come back from this.”
Tom said his store was very fortunate in that it doesn’t have rent to worry about and enjoyed “a very solid” three months trade from mid-July to mid-October.
Retail Excellence Ireland warned that the lockdown could cost the non-food sector, still recovering from the first lockdown, up to 60,000 jobs.
Source: Irish News