By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN – Demand for luxury brands remains strong in Ireland despite a squeeze on incomes and greater post COVID-19 lockdown spending options, the head of Ireland’s largest high-end department store chain said on Thursday.
Brown Thomas Arnotts Managing Director Donald McDonald said the lifting of mask mandates in the country would further boost consumer confidence as he opened the group’s fifth Brown Thomas store in Dublin’s largest shopping mall.
“We haven’t noticed any change at this point in time and demand for luxury brands remains strong,” McDonald said in an interview when asked if inflation of 5% was beginning to bite or whether demand for goods was cooling as societies reopen fully.
“People are I’m told going back on holidays in their droves and our numbers are still holding up.”
Bucking a trend that has seen some brick-and-mortar retailers retreat because of disruption wrought by COVID, Brown Thomas Arnotts has spent 12 million euros ($13.5 million) on the new 5,800 square metre store in Dundrum Town Centre.
Owned by luxury British chain Selfridges, which is being sold to Thailand’s Central Group, and Austrian real estate company Signa Group, Brown Thomas Arnotts has reported an 11% rise in trading on pre-pandemic 2019 levels since Ireland lifted its longest lockdown last May.
While the group’s online business trebled over the first 12 months of the pandemic, physical retail sales are up 5% on 2019 since May with higher spending per customer making up for footfall that is still slightly down on the same period.
With a new store offering vitamin injections, a concierge service and clothing rental and repairs that nod to almost 15% of sales now coming from sustainably certified goods, McDonald said post-lockdown shoppers are demanding more of an in-store experience.
While the group’s regional outlets have been performing particularly well, McDonald said it was hard to say whether there would be a permanent shift away from city centre shopping. The lifting of a mask mandate from Monday will help and “make everyone feel that bit more confident”, he said.
“What we see are very, very positive signs. Customers are returning to our stores in droves and we’re very excited about the future of bricks and mortar retail.”
($1 = 0.8847 euros)