Struggling Northern Ireland retail traders in call for business tax cuts
Northern Ireland's beleaguered retail sector continues to struggle, although shopper numbers improved slightly after summer, new figures suggest.
A report published today shows more people hitting the shops in September than in the previous three months, due to good autumn weather and an extra bank holiday trading day.
But the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium/Springboard Footfall research also found a 0.7% drop in the number of people passing through stores here last month than a year earlier.
High streets and shopping centres reported falls of 1.4% and 1.3% respectively, with only retail parks boasting a 4% rise in shoppers.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC), said the figures show "the volatile nature" of the local retail market.
"Although this is our best footfall result since May 2015, it is still a fall of 0.7% and the 12 month average is still -1.2%," he said.
"Retail has made a clear commitment to Northern Ireland but for us to continue to invest, grow employment, and bring great value to consumers here, we need government support.
"Uppermost is the need for fundamental reform of business taxes in Northern Ireland."
Local retail expert Donald McFetridge, who is based at the Ulster University, put the fall in numbers down to online shopping and penny-pinching.
"There has been a definite upsurge in online shopping as it's so easy to go to the internet for what you need," he said.
"It's probably also because consumers are putting more money into savings these days before committing themselves to purchases, so they're staying away from the shops to avoid temptation."
Diane Wehrle, Marketing and Insights Director at Springboard, said the large number of empty shops in the local retail sector presented opportunities.
"Northern Ireland's vacancy rate of 17.3% remains stubbornly high, but offers owners the opportunity to market their empty units to pop-ups," she said.
"With more property owners now comfortable with pop-ups, flexible leases are increasingly available, bringing much-needed brands into empty space."