Online sales have increased after an initial pandemic surge and are now a significant part of the retail offering for thousands of Irish businesses, according to one of the leading courier companies in Ireland.
Danny Hughes, CEO of Fastway Couriers, told the Irish Independent that his business has had a 70pc increase in volume this year – mostly from UK to Ireland ecommerce, but also from an expansion of domestic-only shipping.
The company, which Mr Hughes says is second only to An Post in terms of parcel delivery, has added 1,200 Irish business customers to the 3,000 on its books at the end of last year. He said most of these businesses are “transitioning” to online channels, with some individual customers increasing digital shipping by 80pc.
“Fastway saw a significant surge for three months starting in March,” said Mr Hughes. “Sales have now fallen back to 15pc-20pc above expectation as people have continued to buy online.”
The trajectory of Fastway during the pandemic has been opposite to virtually every other business, as companies hit by lockdown restrictions scrambled to find new ways of reaching their customers.
Mr Hughes said the high growth rates Fastway has experienced in Ireland are due to the relatively low penetration of ecommerce here generally, in contrast to other markets where the company operates, such as the UK. He said most business-to-consumer shipping in Ireland still originates in the UK, which makes up the bulk of online retail sales Fastway handles here.
Online sales fell back nearly to pre-Covid levels in August after rocketing during the lockdown, suggesting consumers may not fully be abandoning bricks-and-mortar shopping just yet.
According to figures from the Central Statistics Office, which measure Irish business only, online sales fell from a record high of 15.3pc of all retail sales in April to just 4.4pc in August. That compares to 3.5pc in February.
The phased reopening of the economy and the release of pent-up demand in the summer appears to have reversed the trend, but winter weather and tightening restrictions under Level 3 could drive shoppers back online. Many Irish SMEs are depending on a strong Christmas shopping season to help make up for an extremely challenging year.