Shops confident of Christmas rush as austerity eases
Northern Ireland retailers are feeling confident that a strong festive shopping rush is ahead, according to research
This year's Barclays Christmas Survey showed that a record 77% of UK retailers were more upbeat about Yuletide trade than they were last year.
Almost 80% said they expected revenue over the period to increase - and their positivity was shared among retailers in Northern Ireland, Barclays said.
The survey also showed more than three-quarters of UK traders were planning Black Friday sales, more than ever before.
The initiative, which was imported from the USA, sees significant discounts from many retailers on the fourth Friday in November.
Graeme MacLaughlin, a director at Barclays Northern Ireland, said: "The overwhelming confidence around prospects for the Christmas season is great to see.
"The trends in Northern Ireland very much follow the rest of the UK, with a continued improvement in consumer confidence driving retailers' hopes for a good Christmas trading season.
"In addition, we're seeing strong growth in Northern Ireland consumers using mobile devices for online shopping and the increasing popularity of click and collect-type shopping.
"Overall, there appears to be more confidence in the sector, as can be seen from the reduction in vacant retail space in Belfast and elsewhere."
Mr MacLaughlin added that the research showed that Black Friday - which falls in three weeks' time - was here to stay.
"As long as retailers focus on selected lines and manage the level of discounting appropriately, this increased participation can contribute to a successful Christmas season," he said.
But Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said it had been a hard year, with volatile footfall and vacancy rates.
"The next few weeks are crucial in our overall retail year as well as in our plans for 2016," he added. "We're expecting particularly strong online sales, but purchases from bricks and mortar stores will continue to be crucial."
Some areas are expected to benefit more than others, and experts believe that towns recently hit by job losses could have lower consumer confidence.
Despite that, Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said he expected strong pre-Christmas trade.
But he added it was important that retailers continued to provide a good selection of products - as well as strong levels of service - to encourage shoppers.
Retailers identified electricals as the category most likely to see the strongest growth this Christmas, followed by beauty and health and luxury products, perhaps reflecting increasing confidence and spending power from some consumers.
But there were some fears, and around 40% said that logistics stress was a threat to their success, while around one in five was worried about IT failure.
There will also be no let-up on Christmas Day itself, with three-quarters of retailers expecting an increase in web traffic on the big day.
More than half of those surveyed expected Christmas Day traffic to peak after 8pm.