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The times, they are a'changin

Brian Keyes

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Brian Keyes

The times, they are a'changin

John Hurley

So said Bob Dylan in the title track of his 1964 music album and that sentiment runs ever so true today.
Last week Kilkenny Chamber conducted a Consumer Sentiment Survey to get a measure on how people are feeling after nine weeks of Covid related restrictions. We wanted to know if people had changed in themselves or in their habits. What changes had come about in society and what changes could be expected going forward?
Not surprisingly, shoppers have developed new habits such as meal planning (67.5% of respondents) and preparing a shopping list (62.5%). Another 30% said that they now bulk buy and 27.5% perform proper budgeting in a way they had not done before.
It would appear to have been a life changing experience for many with 58.54% saying that their shopping habits will not return to normal after the restrictions are lifted. But 41.46% indicated that they would not be comfortable about going into shops until a vaccine has been found. This is balanced by the preference expressed by 55% who said that they would prefer to shop in shops rather than online.
There are mixed feelings about the prospect of social distancing in town with 47.5% saying that they would not feel comfortable queuing on footpaths outside with other pedestrians using the footpath. Of course, this leaves the balance of 52.5% saying they would be comfortable with this and presumably they are looking forward to coming to town when the restrictions are lifted.
We must appreciate what this means for us as a society going forward. Almost half are comfortable and almost the same amount are not. A 50/50 division. This is something similar to the Brexit vote in the UK with nearly as many wanting to stay as to leave and see what a mess that has turned out to be! It is important for us all to realise that not everyone feels as I do or as you do and then respect the positions of others. We are all in this together.
So, what are the implications of this for Kilkenny where we have so many charming and attractive small places and spaces? We have small shops and narrow streets which make it very difficult to exercise proper social distancing. Maintaining a constant two metre distance between everyone is quite a challenge in Kilkenny. Many shops can only accommodate one or two shoppers at a time and this results in queues out the door. These queues form on footpaths that are already narrow so must be widened by taking some of the roadway (on both sides of the road). Now the road is too narrow to accommodate traffic in both directions so a one-way traffic system becomes necessary. And the domino effect goes on.
The key learning point here is that these changes are inevitable and we must change our own ways accordingly. Business owners must look at doing business differently and this involves more than just putting up Perspex screens and safe distancing signs. If restrictions are being imposed on the numbers of people or amount of stock on display in your shop, can you do more business outside the shop? Some cafes and restaurants have tables and chairs outside their premises but there is a limit on how much more, if any, of this can be accommodated given the already narrow footpaths and now the presence of queues there as well.
One possible solution that exists for all is to consider expanding your business online. Kilkenny Chamber encourages businesses to consider the potential of online as an “as well as” rather than an “instead of” solution. In other words, continue to drive your business through your established shop in town and also develop a complimentary online presence that will add to your overall sales and ability to engage with many different customers in a variety ways.
This very topic was explored recently at a Kilkenny Chamber Chat when a panel of three experts spoke about potential online solutions which could work for every business regardless of their proficiency with the use of technology. We heard fantastic stories and innovative ideas from Red Sky Europe, Square Root Solutions and The Biz Locator all of whom are Kilkenny based and have a readymade range of solutions for every business struggling to establish an online presence. Kilkenny Chamber is working with a number of interested parties in developing an App specifically for shops and businesses in Kilkenny which will come at little or no cost to them and has the potential to deliver excellent sales results.
Kilkenny has a great heritage for facing up to challenges and winning when it matters most. The current crisis has caused us to question and change in many ways. In tough times, research shows: 25% of businesses fail, 70% survive, but 5% actually thrive. You can contact Kilkenny Chamber at 056-7752767 or email admin@kilkennychamber.ie