Retailing supports jobs in every city, town and village in the country with 1 in every 7 people working in the retail sector. Therefore, it is critical that our retail sector is both productive and competitive to sustain employment across the country, in the long term. As Chair of the Retail Consultation Forum, I am acutely aware of the transformation which the retail sector is undergoing.
Technological breakthroughs, as one of the global megatrends, have greatly affected retailing. The pace and progress of technological change has never been greater, and it is clear that this transformation – although exciting, is challenging for the sector. The digital economy provides a different retail experience for consumers across Ireland and beyond. Digitalisation has increased the scope for competition in the retail sector, as reflected in the growth in online shopping and changing consumer preferences in terms of how people are shopping in town centres. Sustaining physical retail outlets requires adaptation: many retailers now offer multiple sales channels to sell their goods, from physical stores, to social media, mobile apps and websites.
I want Irish based retailers to compete at the forefront of the digital revolution and have prioritised supporting the retail sector to develop their online capability, in order for them to expand their market reach nationally and internationally and enhance their competitiveness. In support of this, I introduced a new pilot Online Retail Scheme in September 2018, administered by Enterprise Ireland. This €1.25m competitive Scheme is targeted at retailers with an online presence to strategically enhance their online offering. By delivering the Online Retail Scheme, I intend to support Irish retailers to innovate, and through innovation, increase their competitiveness and international reach.
The Scheme will provide grants between €10,000 and €25,000 on a 50% match fund basis with the purpose of enhancing their online offering. The grants may be utilised to fund research, strategy development, implementation and training. The Scheme also provides a peer learning opportunity for the successful applicants; and the outcomes from the pilot Scheme will inform my Department about the challenges that the sector is facing in relation to digitalisation. The second Call under the pilot Scheme opened on 19th June, 2019 and will close on 31st July 2019 at 3pm.
Supporting and creating high-quality, sustainable jobs across the country is something that this Government is firmly focused on through the Future Jobs Ireland framework. Pillar 2, of five in Future Jobs Ireland focuses on ‘Improving SME productivity' and includes a focus on the retail sector under the ambition (2.4) to ‘Encourage enterprises to exploit technology and business process improvements to increase productivity’. This includes a 2019 deliverable set out under Ambition 2.4 to:
(vi) ‘commence a study on the retail sector to understand the full extent and impact of disruption to pre-existing business models in light of digital transformation’.
My Department has just commenced work on this study which will be undertaken in conjunction with the Retail Consultation Forum which I chair. I am expecting that the study will be completed by the end of Q2 2020.
I look forward to the results of the research and continuing to work with the Retail Consultation Forum and its focus on the current and future developmental needs of the retail sector.