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Retail voucher scheme ‘wrong to exclude all online operations’

The Department for the Economy has been short-sighted in excluding all online retail from its £140m voucher scheme providing all adults with £100 to spend in shops, it has been claimed.
he scheme, which will invite eligible over-18s to apply for a…

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The Department for the Economy has been short-sighted in excluding all online retail from its GBP140m voucher scheme providing all adults with GBP100 to spend in shops, it has been claimed. he scheme, which will invite eligible over-18s to apply for a card, is to be launched at the end of the summer at the earliest. By that time an anticipated rush of pent-up spending by consumers will be finished, leaving a greater need for a form of boost for the high street. Its launch will also be conditional on a low level of Covid-19 infections.

Card-holders won't be able to use the card for online shopping but aren't restrained from spending it in the physical stores of big retailers like Tesco, Asda or Marks & Spencer. However, retail and ecommerce expert Dan Wilson said it was a mistake to exclude small NI independent retailers who had invested in online operations, while enabling massive retailers like Primark with no online presence to avail of it. "The future of retail is bricks and clicks," Mr Wilson said. "In the first lockdown thousands of Northern Ireland retailers make the digital pivot to offer online shopping, click & collect and local delivery.

"Multi-national, high street chains who stubbornly refuse to go online, such as Primark, will benefit from this scheme but local, nimble firms who have invested and innovated in technology are excluded. It's more important that the money stays local than whether or not it's spent in person. "Even pureplay online sellers without a shop but located in Northern Ireland should be included.

Many self-employed people, and start-ups, now sell online, often on online marketplaces like eBay and Etsy, and they deserve to get their share too." The Department for the Economy said it had already given its reasoning behind the move to limit the scheme to bricks and mortar retailers. Launching the scheme on Friday, it said it would boost the recovery of the high street. "This means up to 1.4 million people will spend an extra GBP140m on our high streets rather than online.

This has a multiplier effect which will help bring many more customers back through the doors of local retail, hospitality and other sectors." Carol Little, owner of Alana Interiors in Lurgan, launched a website in April last year following the first lockdown, and spent money towards her operation's ecommerce during lockdown. She said she had also invested GBP100,000 in refurbishing her shop and extending into another unit before reopening on Friday.

"For a destination store like ours, the retail voucher scheme is very much welcomed and it's reassuring to see the Executive take steps to further encourage people to shop locally.

"We want to get local shoppers back into their towns and villages, supporting our thriving independent retailers , many of whom I know have invested to make their shops safer and businesses more sustainable for the future, like we have."

Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said it had no issue with the scheme. "We are pretty satisfied that it will do what it needs to, which is to stimulate the economy."

Belfast Telegraph