Mercenary wishes for Christmas

Maeve Glavey is forced to consider
Dublin businesses’ fate this Christmas — even though it’s still only November

Maeve Glavey is forced to consider
Dublin businesses’ fate this Christmas — even though it’s still only November
Maeve Glavey is forced to consider
Dublin businesses’ fate this Christmas — even though it’s still only November

I have a rule. Nobody is allowed to so much as breathe a word about Christmas to me until it is December. That’s right – from the first day of the last month of the year I’m happy to listen to carols, attend festive parties and investigate my savings so I can see just how much my family and friends are going to think they’re worth this year. But not before the first of the month. Unfortunately, for as long as I can remember, the retail industry has not shared my view.

However this year I was still somewhat unprepared for the suddenness with which Christmas has descended. It could also be the denial I’m experiencing given that almost every one of my assignments is due right before Christmas.

When I was told a couple of weeks ago that O’Connell street was closed to traffic so that they could put up a Christmas tree my first thought was, “Isn’t that a little premature?” Maybe so, but as it turns out the early arrival of Christmas decorations in our city centre is no accident. When Lord Mayor of Dublin Eibhlin Byrne switched on those Christmas tree lights three weeks earlier than usual, she was playing her part in the push to stimulate consumer spending this Christmas.

With the recent declaration that the Eurozone is now officially in recession, nobody is trying to hide the fact that we are in an economic downturn anymore.

Shops all across the country are preparing for what is traditionally their busiest season while quietly praying that it stays that way. Their fears are not unfounded.

A recent survey by consulting firm Deloitte revealed much for retailers to be concerned about. The annual Christmas consumer spending survey showed consumers intending to cut back significantly on Christmas spending, searching out discounted options and forgoing luxury gift items amidst a rapid loss of confidence in the economy.

The crisis may have been in the making for a while, but this Christmas may be the first opportunity consumers have to illustrate just how worried they are about Ireland’s economic health.

Add to the mix the government’s decision to up VAT from December 1st and it’s no wonder retailers are uneasy. Balking at this particular announcement, Torlach Denihan, director of Retail Ireland commented that “consumer confidence is at an all-time low”. Given all these factors, Deloitte estimates consumer spending power as having dropped by close to ten percent. Hardly what you want to be hearing as you paint Christmas trees onto your shop window.

Considering the gloomy atmosphere, these decorative efforts may be only part of what we need to get customers out and spending.

The Dublin City Business Association is among those calling for customers to stay local when they go on their Christmas expeditions to buy whatever it is they can still afford.

This option is in contrast to shopping in say Northern Ireland, or embarking on shopping expeditions abroad, for example to New York, as has become a common occurrence over the past years of the Celtic Tiger economy.

Of course the thought that if you don’t travel abroad you’ll be affecting airlines and that once you get there you’ll face similar desperation from retailers reminds us – the recession is worldwide and there really is nowhere to hide from the misery.

Christmas has arrived already but is early merrymaking a devious scheme to bankrupt us all or do we have a civic duty to our city?

For students experiencing the recession, there can be hidden benefits – plenty of shops are slashing prices and the number of food outlets offering student-friendly “recession-busting deals” is rising. But what about if you go seeking Christmas employment? The attitude you’ll most likely encounter is one of shops that traditionally take on extra staff to deal with the Christmas rush cutting back sharply on their new recruits. Not only can they not afford to pay as many new people, but they don’t expect to have as many customers swarming their shops for them to serve.

While we wait for the leaders of the world to tell us what it is exactly we should be doing about the recession and how to get ourselves out of this mess, it’s difficult to know just how pessimistic we should be.

Of the same Irish consumers telling Deloitte they’d be cutting back spending this Christmas, 71% attested that they expected a further deterioration in the economy in 2009. But there are glimmers of hope for Irish retailers – despite the fall in spending, Ireland is still Europe’s top spender at Christmas.

This indicates that some of the festive spirit is in fact still alive in us, and if retailers can figure out ways of luring us into their shops, we just might be persuaded to make those vital purchases after all. Bigger stores that can afford to offer deals to stimulate sales might benefit as consumers place the cheapest prices at the top of their wish list when purchasing gifts.

With all the added pressure this Christmas, and the bleak thought of 2009 as the first year in which the Celtic Tiger is well and truly dead, the decorations adorning O’Connell and Grafton street may not be enough to part us with our money. At the very least, maybe they can distract us, and keep up spirits as we go through tough times.

Consumer spending on entertainment is also a vital part of the Christmas economy – so if you’re feeling the need to take a break from studying and head out in the run-up to Christmas, you can easily explain it away as just doing your part to help steer Ireland back on the path to prosperity.