Cold Fronts

As the Christmas shopping season hits overdrive, Catherine Maguire lifts the lid on Dublin’s retail hotspots to see just how outlets are trying to cope at the tail end of recession

As the Christmas shopping season hits overdrive, Catherine Maguire lifts the lid on Dublin’s retail hotspots to see just how outlets are trying to cope at the tail end of recession It’s that time of year again: Christmas is fast approaching and the pressure to spend that cold, hard cash is growing. However, at this time of year when we might all grumble about the pressures placed on consumers, we must also remember the pressure on the retailer.Sales have to be maximised as much as possible, targets have to be met, and above all, retailers have to ensure that they can stay in business. Even walking through Grafton Street or Dundrum Town Centre there is a huge difference in the style of advertising seen at this time of year: it is all about the sales.The University Observer contacted a number of retailers about their Christmas sales targets. While some of the companies contacted failed to respond, citing the market-sensitive nature of the information, it is in plain sight for all to see. Truth be told, the pressure is on for retailers like never before.Your correspondant works in the retail profession, and can report first-hand that in comparison to last year, there has been a significant increase in the number of sales or discount opportunities being broadcasted to the potential customer. There has been an enormous change in the marketing approach this time around, in contrast to last Christmas. It is far more cut-throat than usual – even though there have been subtle signs of improvement and profiteering in the industry.03No matter how one looks at it, shoppers or customers are hungry for a bargain. For example, ladies’ retailer Coast has reduced its prices for the second time, so as to keep their euro and sterling prices near parity. While the euro-sterling levelling has not been publicised to any great extent, it is a good effort to bring shoppers in.H&M’s Jimmy Choo range sold out in a matter of hours, and given the price of a single pair of shoes, brought in a tidy profit. Even other high street retailers like Marks & Spencer have been employing and collaborating with designers like Sandra Rhodes or Sex and the City stylist Patricia Field in an effort to drum up extra interest in their wares.Think about it: this type of marketing ploy has only been introduced in the last two years. Retailers have too much to lose in the current climate, and are now taking risks they would never have taken during the Celtic Tiger era.A-Wear is an excellent example of how retailers have been hopping on any bandwagon going, with its Twilight-inspired range – just in time for the movie’s release and the Christmas period. It makes perfect sense; if a certain franchise is raking in serious cash, why not jump on the bandwagon and try to maximise sales as much as possible?In the current economic climate – a phrase it has almost become taboo to use – it is no surprise that sales have been fluctuating non-stop. There is no evidence to support a trend or solid increase or decrease, proving that the market is far more volatile than consumers might think.Behind the scenes, advertising planning for the Christmas season now starts in August. For many companies, especially catalogue-based businesses, promotions for the following Christmas start as soon as the New Year kicks in. Decorations arrive in stores shortly after the beginning of September. The Christmas makeovers start to take shape once Halloween has passed; decorations are put up and carols are injected into the airwaves. It is a familiar protocol, but it starts earlier and earlier every year. It is a relentless, tiresome and gruelling process. There is no break; the Christmas drive is applied and borne in mind in other marketing opportunities throughout the entire year.Thankfully, there have been reports of many high street shops in Britain experiencing a rise in sales, but this begs a pertinent question: will the sales bubble last into the New Year? In all honesty it is hard to tell.If we compare the start of 2009 to the beginning of 2008, we find a huge difference in consumer spending. People spent far more money in 2009 than at the previous New Year. It’s baffling, and almost a little bit ironic: no prices were changed, the recession was in full swing, and the euro-sterling equalisation had not taken place. So, what can we expect for this Christmas and the New Year? It seems the likely forecast is for fierce competition, huge January sales and vicious bargain hunters.While there is a strong sense of déjà vu, there is a huge difference in the ambience in the world of retail marketing. Different businesses have a different interpretation of the situation at hand. Some seem to be taking it easy, absorbing the recession in their strides and casually understating their discounts, while others shout about their bargains from the rooftops.So, while I finish off the rest of my gingerbread man latte – or whatever the hell it’s called – I find myself with a sense of wonder. Is it worth all of the effort? It creates jobs for more people; prices may be reduced to entice customers...Oh! Hang on! Is that bag real leather? Does that say ‘50%’…?