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  • Miriam Simon

Irish Retail - It aint dead yet!

We hear a lot of Retailer casualty stories these days. And it’s likely over these coming weeks post Peak that we’ll hear many more.

Department Stores in particular - had a very hard 2018. Remember House of Frasers’ woes last year (and subsequent takeover by Mr Ashley of Sports direct)? Everyone’s waiting to hear how Debenhams Xmas trading fared as they also had some very tough results last year. Likewise - M&S. Tough stories of retail distress coming from so many directions…

This morning we heard Nexts' results following peak, and these were no surprise at +1.5% for peak / +3.2 year end. Not bad. Although showing huge disparity between online and store performance at +15 / (9) respectively. The march into digital continues..

However Bricks & Mortar Retail isn't dead - Rather the Customers expectations have changed and Retail needs to move quickly to adapt to this. Those changes are not just about the digital offer.

We don't hear enough noise and celebration about those that are ‘winning’. Because there’s no doubt that there are Retailers out there – and Irish retailers at that! - that are innovating, investing and quietly doing quite well.

On that note...

I was in a couple of Dunnes Stores over the Xmas to New Year period. Interesting to see that their SALE event was very subtle - rather a cleansing exercise that was executed in a premium way, with key focus remaining on prime full price product and fresh new season. Indicates to me that they have traded reasonably comfortably for peak; no sign of distressed selling there at all.

Great to see one of Irelands biggest retail employers with 14,000 employees and over 150 stores, well, doing quite well by all appearances!

My first ‘big’ job was as Trainee Manager for Dunnes (albeit quite some years ago!). It was a job that instilled a work ethic and pace that helped me build a very strong retail career. So I have always maintained both a soft spot and a healthy respect for Dunnes. Especially for their people as I know first-hand just how hard they work!

 I’m a bit of a retail nerd and I’ve watched Dunnes journey with interest over the years. The last 10 years have been eventful. During 2008/9 they were in survivor mode – and piled it high and cheap during those tough times. The last five years, Dunnes have quietly and confidently evolved, reinvented and repositioned themselves. Very impressively too! And with little noise or self-congratulation.

For balance, and before I go into why I think they’re doing a pretty good job on traditional bricks and mortar retailing, let me also level some criticism:

Website / User XP: Although functional. Dunnes’s website isn’t as slick as their new store design and experience would make you anticipate. It’s just not as fun, fast, responsive or user-friendly as it should and could be.Food: The newly refurbished food halls are beautiful and, believe me, I will gush about this shortly. However, this major retailer is still handing Tesco so much business by not having a food order / delivery service. Many busy families (mine included) need and expect a delivery option these days. This is where Tesco have real strength and Dunnes need to catch up. Here’s hoping that they do😊

So, digitally, it looks like Dunnes have done some work. However not enough, and have a good bit more to do.

It would appear that their focus has primarily been on bricks and mortar and getting that right first! Their focus has been strategic and long range. It’s been about product, design and branding. It’s been about customer experience and increasing dwell time in store.

And you can almost gauge the pedigree & talent of those involved. For they have done a wonderful job of bringing one of the Nation’s favourites bang up to date.

Drapery/Apparel

The new shop fit is a premium retail environment – almost like a cross between Selfridges and John Lewis.Year on year development of new ‘designer’ collaborations that make the stores interesting as well as helping to zone the big space format. This has really improved their visual proposition and I expect has significantly increased customer ‘dwell time’ in store.It also enables Dunnes to effectively profile and potentialize different markets – with most medium stores now having at least Gallery or Savida, or both.The price ranges cater to local markets via the brand offering and, alongside the higher ticket collaborations, there still sits ‘better value everyday basics’ – so everyone is catered for.Café Sol – has been executed well in the flags; not just an additional revenue stream, it's also another means of improving customer experience and increasing dwell time.

Home

The Flagships have amazing Home Collections. Again, merchandising has also massively improved here – Clear zones, each with distinct signature style.Last year saw some furniture and larger ticket items appearing. I suspect that this was ‘testing the water’ and it was great product offering that sold quickly. I anticipate that we are just at the start of this new product venture...

Food

The new food halls remind me of Waitrose and Booths – albeit more modern. It’s like they’ve visited many of the very best food halls and taken a little magic from each. The layout is lovely and the bakery and deli’s look very premium.

Love the new look. A lovely shopping experience!

The bounce back ‘€10 when you spend €50 on next shop’ etc vouchers continue to be a great customer loyalty tool (especially as Dunnes food halls are not really that cheap). The 'buy a coffee on the way out' – feels like a squeeze further revenue tactic and doesn't sit so well with me.

These are small niggles - personal to me however. Overall, I think that Dunnes are clearly and impressively investing and testing. They’re not afraid to try new things.

And, yes, I know that Penny’s have beauty bars, and coffee shops etc also. However, Dunnes’s transformation has been a real transformation – and Bravo to them!

Irish Retail clearly ain’t dead yet!!!


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