Online shopping is beginning to rip the heart out of Kilkenny city's shops

Sean Keane

Reporter:

Sean Keane

Email:

sean.keane@kilkennypeople.ie

Online shopping is beginning to rip the heart out of Kilkenny city's shops

More and more people are shopping online and it is having a devastating impact on our shops, the people we know that work in them and on the fabric of commercial life in the city’s core.
Soon, we will be able to order everything from home and have it delivered there as well.
There will be no interaction and it will lead to social exclusion. I think this is coming and no one is doing anything to address it.
Anthropologists have told us that the more connected people are with their community and the more interaction they have within that community, the better quality of life they enjoy and the longer they live.
As the number of vacant shops increases in the city, it looks as if the lovely shopping core of the city will disappear within a short few years and with it the money generated by them for the local authority through commercial rates. And in a few years time, the very people who shop online will be bemoaning the fact that a certain shop closed or that a particular outlet is no more.
One shop closed recently in large part because people were walking in to the shop, trying stuff on and then going off and buying the same items online at a reduced price. Short term thinking. Now they can’t do that any more with this particular boutique shop run by the most wonderful woman.
Retail Ireland have said that 2017 was notable for a rapid increase in online shopping by Irish consumers with last Christmas showing record online sales with the Irish consumer now more comfortable than ever shopping in the virtual world. This lays the challenge squarely at the door of the traditional Irish retail sector.
Retail Ireland boss Thomas Burke pointed out that the majority of online trade leaves the State on a daily basis, with some putting an estimate of 70% of all digital purchases transacted on websites based outside of Ireland.
“For some retail categories we have reached a critical point, where failure to act in the short term will lead to closures and the gradual disappearance of certain retail formats from our high street. A clear digital strategy will be crucial in ensuring the future of such businesses who must embrace the challenge at all levels of the organisation,” he said.
So what can we do to arrest this development. At Council level, at regional level and at government level we must protect what we have.
The fact that 70% of all digital purchases made in Ireland are going overseas is a disaster.
Is it time to go back to Guaranteed Irish, especially if Britain is going down that road post Brexit?
Mr Burke highlighted the role the Government will have to play in the required transformation. He said that bricks and mortar retailers continue to carry all the burden of costs associated with retailing in the State.
A growing cost base linked to increasing local authority rates, insurance premiums, regulatory red tape and Government mandated wage rates, all give an undue advantage to their competition, most likely based in a warehouse in a city or town in England. Such an imbalance in the respective competitive positions is not sustainable and requires a creative approach by Government in the short term.
Mr Burke said: “We must ask ourselves, as a country are we happy to lose large swathes of commerce providing rural employment and contributing to their local communities? We must face the challenge head on and seek to level the playing field for our retailers”.
This is the kind of leadership we need and there needs to be a national debate on this issue. Do we just sit back and let technology take over and destroy our city centre?