Shoppers will be encouraged to do their January sales shopping online with retailers to offer sales and discounts there rather than in-store.

This follows a two hour meeting earlier today via video conference between Minister for Retail, Damien English, and representatives of the retail sector.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin appealed to retailers to defer post -Christmas sales to protect public health when he announced non-essential shops could remain open as Level 5 restrictions return from midnight tomorrow.

In a statement this evening, a spokesperson for the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment said that in a bid to avoid post-Christmas crowds gathering in stores, offers and discounts would be available online instead.

"Retailers and Government are committed to working together to protect public health, minimise congregation and ensure consumers can shop safely and get the best value at this time of year.

"To avoid unnecessary consumer travel and congregation in-store, this year's sales and best discounts will be available for consumers through online promotions and 'click and collect' for the post Christmas period, rather than through in-store promotions."

From tomorrow, Christmas Eve, the country is moving back to Level 5 with adjustments until 12 January.

While non-essential retail stores will remain open during this period, retailers will face many challenges over the coming weeks.

Are sales that are underway likely to be cancelled?

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Duncan Graham, Managing Director of Retail Excellence, which represents retailers across the Ireland, acknowledged that many sales are already underway.

"Most stores started to discount on Black Friday, some even earlier," he said.

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Mr Graham said he believes retailers will keep these discounts in place throughout the post-Christmas period and he said he thinks some retailers will mark down prices even further.

"Very much the message coming back from retailers is that they won't be be marketing their sales, which means you won't be seeing big sale stickers in front windows and you won't be seeing significant, massive discounts like you would have seen in previous years," he said.

How will retailers cope if crowds gather?

Mr Duncan said that footfall in stores over the last few days has been down, and he is not expecting large crowds to gather in stores after Christmas.

"Customers are clearly getting worried about the rising cases," he said.

In the event that crowds do gather, Mr Graham said that retailers are equipped to deal with that.

"I think if you look back over the last few months of the pandemic, retailers have done their absolute best to make their premises as safe as possible.

"If you look at the compliance with face coverings for example, it is phenomenal.

"Retailers have been managing queues very well over the busy period running up to Christmas, and this will continue.

Retailers are encouraging customers to check out their online sales, and to visit stores at off peak times if possible.

"Consumers have a lot of choice, they can come into store but they can also shop online and shop at their local Irish retailer.

Why did the Government decide to keep non-essential retail open?

The Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan said every decision has been made on the basis of evidence.

Mr Ryan said the evidence shows that the retail sector, by and large, operates in a safe manner.

"On that basis and the basis that around 40,000 jobs would be lost immediately if the sector was to close, and the wider context of the mental health benefits, a decision was made to keep this sector open," he said.

He added that if there is any evidence that retail areas become a source of transmission, a review of the situation will be made.

Will non-essential retail stay open in Northern Ireland?

No, non-essential retail will close in the North from Saturday.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she believes that non-essential shops in the Republic should also close on 26 December - mirroring the restrictions in the North.

Ms McDonald said the country should work as a single unit for the purpose of public health.

She added that it makes "plain sense" to have the same measures North and South.

Additional reporting by Gill Stedman