Human contact, that’s what Homeware and Jewellery buyer, Una Heelan, from the Kilkenny Group has missed most during the pandemic
“What has been the biggest problem you have faced as a buyer for the Kilkenny group, in the past year?” we asked Una Heelan when we caught up with her (from a distance) during lockdown.
“The lack of tourists and visitors to Ireland, the lack of footfall in our city centres and the challenge to sell through seasonal stock when stores remain closed,” she responds. In common with other stores in the giftware sector and also jewellery stores, the virtual cancellation of all ‘occasions’ also proved a huge problem.
“In effect, all occasions were cancelled or put on hold. This impacted on customers purchasing for First Communions, parties and the various other occasions that crop up during the year,” she adds
How did Kilkenny go about addressing those problems?
“We up-scaled our online offering, made changes to our product mix and presented our offers in a relevant way, by staying close to the mood of the nation,” says Una revealing the very dynamic approach the Group took to the unfolding situation
So, what about the supports Government put in place….did they help?
“Government support is vital. But we also had great support from our supplier base,” Una, reveals adding “We stayed close right through the lockdowns and kept communicating and working together
And did Irish shoppers support their local businesses?
“Yes we got great local support,” she confirms.
“Our ‘CHAMPION GREEN’ campaign worked well in this regard as did other initiatives such as MADE IN IRELAND and SHOP LOCAL
On the buying end of things, the focus was on Buying Irish too as Brexit came into to play …
“Avoiding the cost implication of Brexit is a reality” Una points out, adding “It would always have been our ethos at Kilkenny to buy/source locally as a first point of call “
We asked Una if she missed the face-to-face interaction with suppliers that trade fairs offer?
“Yes’” she confirms. ”There is nothing to beat the live interaction with buyers and the touch and feel of the product in real life.
Given that so much has changed in retailing over the past year we asked Una how she thinks town centres and shopping centres will be impacted after the pandemic lockdown is lifted
“I feel there will be a pent up demand initially from customers who want to get back into towns and shopping centres. But I also think that a percentage of customers will have converted to online shopping as their norm. Businesses with a Bricks& Mortar presence will need to work hard to be creative in the experience offered, in order to attract customers to come into their shops. Looking forward I feel Omnichannel will be the future…so a mix of both traditional shopping and online will continue.”
Finally, Una, Are you optimistic for the future of retail in Ireland?
“Yes,” she replies, with the caveat …..” I think retail companies who have a good Omnichannel —offering much way to shop — who listen to their customers and keep their best interest to the forefront, will be ones to succeed.
I also think, given the recent lessons learned, that agility and creativity will be key to future success