The political and economic stability provided by Irish government policies brought inflation and budget deficits under control after two years of overheating, resulting in increased labour force skills, employment, and foreign investments. Ireland's population of 4.1 million, growing at 1.2% yearly, is the youngest in the EU with more than 53% below the age of 35. Literacy is high, poverty is low, and government forecasts private consumption to grow at 5.6% and GDP ($222 bn in 2005) to grow steadily at 4.7% in 2006.
The economic boom triggered substantial changes in the Irish retail landscape and transformed what was once a collection of small shops offering specialised services, small general stores offering various dry goods and fresh foods, and department stores selling clothes and household items. Rapid growth increased mobility, improving the access to information and altering the tastes and shopping habits of consumers, who are more discriminating in getting the highest possible quality at the lowest possible price. The retail sector is adapting to these changes through continuous entrepreneurial innovation and business consolidation. There are currently eleven categories of retail marketing channels in Ireland, ranging from small boutiques to large hypermarkets (Forfs, 2006).
The average consumer in Ireland is young, affluent, well educated, employed, and with a high disposable income. The second part of the paper will be devoted to an analysis of Ireland's consumer profile.
Environmental Assessment of Ireland's Retail Sector
Probably the most important development in Ireland has been the lifting in January 2006, according to plan, of the Groceries Order, a 20-year old law designed to minimise cutthroat price competition among retailers by prohibiting below invoice selling (CSG, 2005). We made a LoNGPEST analysis to assess the political, economic, social, and technological effects of the recent lifting of the Groceries Order that may have widespread local, national, and global consequences.
Overview of the Retail Market Sector
Table 1 contains an overview of the top competitors in Ireland's retail market