Retail sector divided over essential and non-essential products

CSNA CEO Vincent Jennings has asked the Committee to consider establishing “clearing house” or “sorting office”, possibly run by local Chambers that would help retailers to report crime and share evidence with An Garda Siochana

The current Level 5 restrictions have brought a host of new challenges for the retail trade, writes Fionnuala Carolan



3 November 2020

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There has been a high level of dissatisfaction among the retail trade over the past ten days due to the fact that small non-essential businesses were ordered to cease trading during this six week lockdown while the stores that remained open were free to sell these very same non-essential items.

Retail Excellence Ireland called on the government to ensure that those retailers who were permitted to remain open restrict their sales activities to essential items only.

Duncan Graham, CEO of Retail Excellence said that the current restrictions were unfair, “Our concern is that large retailers are abusing the fact that they are allowed remain open by selling non-essential as well as essential items. This rubs salt into the wounds of smaller retailers who are forced to close but who now see larger competitors take advantage of their closure.”

Last week the government was forced to clarify what was essential and non-essential and to order that larger retailers should not sell non-essential items in order to create a level playing field.

The list of essential retail includes grocery stores, takeaways, newsagents, household repair stores, pharmacies, petrol stations, dry cleaners, banks, hardware and click-and-collect services among others. The non-essential list includes books, clothes, garden supplies, kitchenware, shoes and educational supplies.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it was “totally unfair” for retailers to use essential products as a means of opening to sell non-essential products and said that gardaí would be enforcing legislation to ensure this would not happen.

Lidl and Aldi have since announced that they have postponed all non-essential products in line with government advice. Tesco also announced that sections with items such as clothes and toys have been closed off to customers. “We’re adhering to government guidelines and have closed our F&F clothing, home entertainment and toys units across the country,” a Tesco spokesperson said.

However Vincent Jennings, chief executive of the Convenience and Newsagents Association told the Irish Independent that retailers were “being put on notice” to not sell certain products. “I can walk up and down the aisles of Tesco or Aldi and spend as long as I want there but I can’t look at flowers in a local shop or buy that most seditious of things – a book in a newsagents.”

Jennings said this “high level of inconsistency” was not fair for businesses trying their best to keep going.

“We are essential retailers and deemed to be so as we are selling food and beverages, newspapers and there were no problems up until now. But recently we are getting calls from people saying they are on notice from their local gardaí. They’re being told to tape over them or take them down and cease selling them. I’m being contacted by other retailers within the same area who have not been visited at all and are selling the same products. We’re looking for consistency here,” he said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has encouraged people to buy online or use click-and-collect services offered by some retailers for non-essential products throughout the lockdown.



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