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Bumper Boxing Day for Belfast shops

By John Mulgrew

Belfast businesses bucked a UK-wide slump in Boxing Day sales, with one shopping centre seeing a huge surge in trade.

Victoria Square said it had a "record-breaking" pre-Christmas week and weekend, with Boxing Day sales also up by 10%.

The news came after figures showed that across the UK, the number heading out on the day fell 6.7% on last year.

"It's helped by how Christmas has fallen, as we had a full seven-day week," Victoria Square boss Michelle Greeves told the Belfast Telegraph.

"The whole Christmas period was very strong. November was plus 15%."

Mrs Greeves expects sales today and tomorrow to beat Boxing Day as more people head back to work and into the city.

"Northern Ireland trades better pre-Christmas, as opposed to post, so the record-breaking days would be last week, but that doesn't mean we won't get growth," she said.

Buttercrane Shopping Centre in Newry had its busiest Christmas since 2009, according to its end of year report. Footfall was up by 5% in December.

Centre manager Peter Murray said that aside from new retail openings, the weak pound had led to a surge of shoppers from the Republic.

"We've over 95,000 shoppers a week visiting regularly, peaking in December to over 155,000 in a single week, showing a year-on-year rise of 5%," he added.

"The euro value certainly had an impact, but only in the last quarter, where we saw 26% of shoppers visiting from the Republic of Ireland, compared to 12% in 2015.

"Nonetheless, our regular shopper continues to be from our primary catchment areas of south Down and south Armagh.

"One retailer has reported a huge increase of 83%, compared to last year, reflecting the appeal of many Buttercrane stores and Buttercrane as a shopping destination.

"As was the case last year, customers were slow to start Christmas shopping, with footfall increasing dramatically in the final week of December."

Across the UK, hardware and technology stores particularly struggled, mainly because people do not need to inspect the products in person and so can buy online, according to UK retail traffic index figures published by Ipsos Retail Performance.

However, the leisure and health and beauty sectors bucked the trend with year-on-year growth in stores, and clothing and footwear shops saw only a relatively small drop in footfall of 3.2%.

Ipsos said the build-up of footfall in the run-in to Christmas was slow, and the last-minute rush for the shops was not as intense as many retailers had hoped for.

Barclaycard, for example, predicted almost a quarter of people in the UK (23%) would shop in the Boxing Day sales, down from 32% last year.

The figures suggested the incentive to buy in the sales weakened following widespread discounting, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday, that continued well into December.

But post-Christmas shoppers were still predicted to go on a £3.85bn bargain hunt on Boxing Day, spending £2.95bn on the high street and £900m online, according to VoucherCodes.co.uk and the Centre for Retail Research.

Retail analysts ShopperTrak said Boxing Day footfall fell 14% year-on-year and suggested this was due to Christmas falling on a Sunday, creating an extra bank holiday, as well as record levels of pre-Christmas discounting.

But Myf Ryan, chief marketing officer at Westfield shopping centres, stressed that Boxing Day continued to be an important date in the sales diary.

Westfield centres saw shoppers queuing from 2am on the day, and more than 300,000 people had visited by the time stores closed, Ms Ryan added.

A shopper from Hammersmith paid £75,000 for a new Bentley, making it the day's biggest purchase.

Other extravagant buys over the Christmas period included a £140,000 diamond ring and a £15,000 transaction by a Middle Eastern princess.

Ms Ryan said the number of international shoppers had increased across the business.

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