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Weaker pound could be the perfect present for retailers this Christmas

By Margaret Canning

Published 02/11/2016

Shopping destinations in Northern Ireland such as Victoria Square in Belfast are expecting a busy Christmas, thanks to the fall in sterling
Shopping destinations in Northern Ireland such as Victoria Square in Belfast are expecting a busy Christmas, thanks to the fall in sterling

A surge in cross-border shopping sparked by the tumbling pound will make this Christmas a bumper season for Northern Ireland's retailers, it is claimed today.

Barclays Northern Ireland relationship director Graeme McLaughlin said confidence in retail in Northern Ireland was strong, despite the economic shock caused by the vote to leave the EU.

"The fall in the value of the pound is proving to be very useful for Northern Ireland retailers and we expect Belfast retailers in particular to have a bumper Christmas," he added.

"Anecdotal evidence we are hearing already suggests shoppers from south of the border are flocking to Belfast, Newry and other border towns.

"A recent survey suggested that around one-third of Irish shoppers plan to do their shopping north of the border, which if it materialises would be a major boost to Northern Ireland retailers."

But Barclay's report, entitled New Retail Reality, found that Northern Ireland shoppers were cautious in their embrace of online shopping.

Its research found that shoppers here were more likely to use high street branches of national retailers rather than buying from the same retailer online. Some 82% preferred to hit bricks-and-mortar stores, while 52% were happy to buy from the comfort of their own home.

Barclays also said that two-thirds of Northern Irish shoppers still preferred to inspect valuable goods in person rather than buying them online straight away. And it said their research found that people valued the high street and wished to see it protected throughout Brexit.

Mr McLaughlin explained: "The retail high street is part of the fabric of Northern Ireland.

"Being a nation of shopkeepers is ingrained in our cultural identity and consumer pride in the sector endures.

"Our research reveals that consumers in Northern Ireland - in line with the rest of the UK - still see the high street as an essential part of the shopping experience and as a national treasure they want to see protected."

Meanwhile, research has shown that Brexit has so far had no impact on shop prices, as deflation continues unabated. But consumers can expect to see costs rising in the first quarter of next year, according to the BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index.

Overall shop prices were 1.7% lower in October than the same time last year, almost unchanged from the 1.8% recorded in September.

Deflation on non-food items remained unchanged at 2.1% for the second consecutive month, coming in significantly higher than food deflation of 1.2%, a slowing from September's 1.3%.

The figures show a marked divergence between ambient and fresh food deflation, with fresh food prices 2% lower than in October last year, while ambient prices were just 0.2% lower.

The report predicted shop price deflation would move closer to zero at the turn of the year and "could even move into inflationary territory" at some point during the first half of next year.

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said: "While we know that the devaluation of sterling since the Brexit vote is stoking inflationary pressures, the good news for consumers is that retailers have been successful in managing this to date and there is still no impact visible in shop prices.

"However, it is inevitable that imported inflation will begin to make its mark... in the first quarter of 2017."

Belfast Telegraph

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