Thursday, March 11, 2021

By Cate McCurry, PA

Almost three-quarters of consumers say they will not feel comfortable shopping on their local high street until the Covid-19 crisis is better controlled, according to new research.

The report, published by .IE, shows that just 23 per cent of consumers are currently fully comfortable shopping on their local high street.

The Tipping Point report, ‘Irish e-commerce and digital business in the Covid vaccine era’, is the second in a series of reports analysing consumer and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) behaviour and attitudes since the pandemic started.

It found that 28 per cent will not feel comfortable until Covid-19 cases are much lower than they are now, with 27 per cent not comfortable until vaccines are available to the general adult population, not just at-risk groups.

Some 16 per cent say they would prefer to wait until the Government confirms that social distancing and masks are no longer required, while six per cent say they will never feel comfortable shopping in-store on their local high street ever again.

Pre-Covid normality

Overall, just 45 per cent believe that life will return close or completely to pre-Covid normality by the end of 2021.

The other 55 per cent believe that life this year will be more or less the same as life in 2020, or even more restricted.

David Curtin, chief executive of .IE, said: “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.

“This flux is accelerating major trends in how consumers spend and how SMEs sell their goods and services.”

Some 68 per cent of consumers reported spending more online in 2020 than they did in 2019.

Looking ahead, 58 per cent will prioritise online shopping over in-store shopping in 2021, up from 52 per cent last year.

Around 42 per cent of consumers said they will do most of their shopping in stores this year, down from 48 per cent in 2020.

Among consumers who say they will do most of their shopping in physical stores in 2021, 61 per cent said it is more convenient.

International or Irish retailers

The 2020 report, published last summer, showed that 53 per cent of consumers reported doing the majority of their online shopping with Irish SMEs since the start of the pandemic, compared to 47 per cent from international retailers.

The 2021 report shows that this figure has now swung back to international retailers, with 49 per cent now saying they have done the majority of their shopping with Irish SMEs since the start of the pandemic.

Mr Curtin added: “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.

Irish SMEs have a number of unique, competitive advantages that consumers recognise

“Irish SMEs have a number of unique, competitive advantages that consumers recognise and value, namely trustworthiness, reliability, and delivery speed.

“SMEs need to focus on these factors, on honing the customer experience online and off, rather than trying to undercut overseas retailers on price and range.”

Almost a third of SMEs now claim to sell a product online in some way, either through a website or third-party platform, up from 25 per cent in 2020.

Almost nine in 10 of that group say they have noticed an increase in their online sales numbers since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

The number of SMEs that have invested in their online presence has increased dramatically since last year.

Now more than half claim to have spent money on improving their digital platforms, with most either launching or improving their website.

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