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Retailers target Easter bonus as late holiday boosts the high street and shopping centres

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland retailers are anticipating a busy Easter with seasonal shoppers already taking to the high streets, it has been claimed.

From high street butchers to shopping centres, traders expect the later timing of Easter this year will work to their benefit.

Overall, retailers estimate that this week and next should add around 5% to 'normal' sales.

Aodhan Connolly of the NI Retail Consortium said people will be splashing out on everything from food to furniture.

"For food, gatherings here mean that the pre-Easter week is the second largest of the year after Christmas," he said.

"Traditionally in Northern Ireland, the four-day break encourages shopping trips for larger ticket items, like furniture and larger appliances."

Mr Connolly said that Easter would bring a welcome fillip to the sector.

"2017 has been a tough year so far for retail," he added. "Our footfall has been down since the start of the year and the political and economic instability can only have a detrimental effect on consumer confidence and spend."

And he said the Easter effect was particularly welcome as companies were now facing new pressures from the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and a rise in the national living wage.

"Retailers will be hoping Easter boosts retail sales in April, whether it's shoppers making the most of the holiday or those choosing to spruce up their homes," Mr Connolly said.

Glyn Roberts, the chief executive of Retail NI, said: "Definitely the timing of Easter will be better for retailers this year as the prospect of better weather should bring people out shopping."

Paul McMahon, the chairman of Belfast Chamber of Trade, said footfall in the run-up to Easter was up on the year before - but that it was due to the later timing of Easter.

"With some schools already on their break, we are seeing the benefits of increased spend across all sectors which we expect to be sustained in the coming week," he said.

John Apperley, co-owner of McAtamney Butchers - a chain of 11 businesses - said: "Definitely the next week or two will be busy - and the fact that Easter is a bit later this year will help.

"But it does depend on the weather. If it's good weather, people will definitely be out."

And Mr Apperley added some McAtamney Butchers would open on Easter Monday.

"We'll be open in Ballymena and Coleraine as Easter Monday and Tuesday are good shopping days in towns like that," he said.

Retailers in Ballymena also said they were anticipating a good Easter.

Alison Moore, manager of the Business Improvement District - set up to improve shopping in the town, said it had held a fashion event last Saturday to encourage visitors to the town over Easter.

"Retailers in the town reported a busy and successful day of trading," she said.

"As part of the event, several fashion bloggers reviewed the town's retail offering and as a result we expect further visitors to visit the town over the coming weekend and weeks ahead."

Ms Moore said Easter promotional events were also being held at Fairhill shopping centre, shoe shop McKillens and Bluebird Children's Clothing.

This week, research company Springboard said footfall in Northern Ireland's shops fell by nearly 4% during March, the second month in a row which had experienced a steep drop. Numbers had declined across all retail destinations.

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