The Wal-Mart-owned retailer, which does not trade in the Republic, this week reported fourth-quarter comparable sales growth of 7.2 per cent and full-year growth of 6.5 per cent. Asda has been a big beneficiary as consumers from the Republic have surged north to take advantage of lower prices, driven by sterling’s weakness against the euro.
Asda chief executive Andy Bond said sales per square foot at its Northern Irish stores were “unbelievable” at Christmas, and at times 50 per cent of sales in some locations were in euros.
No decision on Asda’s extension of home shopping – which is not yet universally available in Northern Ireland – has been made. Various hurdles would need to be overcome, such as adapting the online model to accept payment in euros.
An Asda spokeswoman said: “Offering home shopping to Irish customers is something we would love to be able to do. It isn’t something we anticipate we will be able to resolve in the short term but our fingers are crossed that we can offer the benefits of our great value offer through home shopping as soon as we possibly can.”
There was renewed speculation in Irish media that Asda is interested in taking over 120-store Irish group Dunnes, which has been one of the victims of shoppers’ flight north and is understood to be axing jobs. An Asda spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports.
Bond said Asda had a “vintage year” in 2008, beating its sales and profit targets. Customer numbers rose from 16.9 million to 17.7 million as the retailer made big inroads among consumers in the south of England.
Asda has observed a strong sense of nostalgia among shoppers unsettled by economic uncertainty, reflected in strong sales of branded goods and traditional games such as Bird’s custard and snakes and ladders, recalling comforting memories of happier times.
The retailer will reinstate the famous “pocket tap” in its TV advertising to key into consumer demand for value. Bond said: “This is a time of concern and fear. Retailers have an increasing obligation to deliver and communicate real value to customers.”