Eason’s results for the 53 weeks to the end of January 2021 highlight the difficulties faced by Irish retailers in the pandemic. Its bricks and mortar stores were closed for about six months, with group turnover dropping by 27 per cent and its Northern Ireland stores being closed permanently.
Stationery sales were particularly hit, declining by 32 per cent on a like-for-like basis, with the category expected to struggle for some time to come. And some €20 million was wiped from newsagency sales – newspapers, magazines, sweets, tobacco and lottery tickets.
On a positive note, its online sales grew threefold and the Dubray specialist books retailer that it acquired in February 2020, a month before Covid restrictions were introduced for the first time, has turned in a resilient performance.
In a letter to shareholders, Eason chairman David Dilger outlined the particular difficulties faced its by city centre stores, which include its flagship O’Connell Street outlet in Dublin.
“Unfortunately, our city centres have been, and continue to be, significantly impacted by the absence of commuters, office workers, tourists and students and also by the closure of many established high street retail brands,” he said. “The absence of footfall in cafes, restaurants and the hospitality sector further compounded the issue.
“Sadly, the increased visibility of anti-social behaviour in many city centre locations also appears to be deterring retail footfall. All these factors make it likely that it will be well into 2022 or perhaps 2023 before we get a return to some level of new trading normality. Given the size of our city centre retail footprint and the significance of these stores’ performance to overall revenues, this will remain a key area of concern and focus for the business.”
For Eason and other city centre retailers, their viability revolves around getting workers back into offices, and reviving tourism.