A John Lewis would 'lure brands to Belfast'
Belfast badly needs a John Lewis department store and has failed to attract more than 200 high-end retail operators commonly found in other cities.
That's according to a new report on retailing in the city centre by consultancy firm the Javelin Group.
They presented the findings of their retail positioning study to councillors yesterday - and some of it made for uneasy reading.
The consultancy concluded that the city is currently underperforming in terms of shopping and is not attracting sufficient spending from affluent people.
It also found that since Victoria Square opened in 2009, Belfast has fallen from 14th to 18th in a ranking of 22 major UK cities.
Hugh Black, president of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said more needed to be done to make Belfast a top retail destination.
"Belfast has a vibrant and varied retail mix - from independent stores to multi-national brands," he said.
"What this report highlights is that there is still room for improvement with regards to attracting the higher-end luxury names.
"Grade A retail space is in short supply in Belfast, which is what most of these luxury brands require.
"The planned development such as that at Royal Exchange may help to attract these bigger brands such as John Lewis and others to invest in Belfast."
In the report for Belfast City Council, it states that John Lewis - or a similar major store - is needed as an 'anchor' in the city centre to help attract more aspirational retailers.
Andrew Leung, associate director at Javelin Group, told councillors he has "identified 212 leading retail operators who are present in at least five major cities, or Dublin, which are not represented in Belfast".
These include Mulberry, Hugo Boss, Whistles, Pink, The White Company and John Lewis.
Of these 212, three-quarters are of midmarket or higher market position.
And although there are concessions offering some of these luxury brands in, for example, the House of Fraser, it is no substitute for a retail outlet.
Glyn Roberts, boss of Northern Ireland Independent Retail Association (NIIRTA), said it would be advantageous for the city if there were branches of the shops on the main shopping street.
"I would like to see Royal Avenue have a mixture of high-end chain stores and independents.
"Because I believe the right retail mix would attract more consumers into Belfast," he said.
Belfast also has below average department store provision in relation to other UK cities, according to the report.
Glasgow is currently the best shopping city in the UK, followed by Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Liverpool.
Those faring worse than Belfast are Bath (at 19), York, and Southampton, with Sheffield lagging behind in 22nd place.
Sales productivity in Belfast city centre has also fallen below the average since 2009, when previously performance had exceeded rivals.
Just 1.1% of Belfast city centre offers luxury or upper market retailing compared to 4.7% across the UK.
The report states: "Considering the relative affluence of a proportion of the population within Belfast's catchment, it is significantly behind the curve in terms of the quality of its retail offering."
More affluent shoppers in the Belfast catchment area are believed to favour online shopping or even retail in London and Dublin, rather than getting in their car and shopping locally.
Overall retail spend per capita in Belfast city centre is 21% below the UK average.
Mr Roberts said he would welcome John Lewis to Belfast city centre if the store wanted to open there.
The employee-owned retail chain which has stores across the UK has made various attempts to set up shop in Lisburn to no avail.