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After slow start to Black Friday, bargain hunters pack NI shops to spend £50m and buck 'stay at home' trend across rest of UK

By Claire McNeilly

Published 26/11/2016

Claire McRoberts with her bags of bargains
Claire McRoberts with her bags of bargains
Timothy Hamill
Marie Rooney with grandchildren Lucy, Dylan and Ella
Students Meiling Nui and Ying Ruan
Sisters Frances Waugh and Ann McFarland
Brian and Karen Beattie

It looked like it was going to be Bleak Friday - until lunchtime.

That's when bargain hunters with burgeoning budgets began browsing for deals and offers across Belfast and elsewhere.

Retailers - who were braced for a busy day, with consumers here expected to spend around £50m yesterday alone - appeared unnerved by a relatively slow start to trade, having opened earlier than usual at 8am.

And, around 10am in one city centre store, employees were discussing whether or not people were opting to go online rather than subject themselves to the freezing weather and commercial drudgery.

By noon, however, shops were packed - bucking the generally quiet trend across the UK and putting paid to rumours that huge numbers would stay at home and use the internet.

Fortunately, Northern Ireland was spared the scenes of hysteria which took place in the US yesterday where at least four people were shot - two of them fatally - as people clashed across the country over bargain items on Black Friday.

Those partaking in the annual Black Friday shopathon in Belfast were snapping up cut-price offers on many items and just enjoying the atmosphere.

Retired Probation Board manager Claire McRoberts (53) was working through a hit list that had cost her £400 by 11am.

The Belfast mother-of-three said she'd saved a "fortune" on clothes and toiletries, adding that she expected to make a total saving of up to £800 before she finished.

"I'm doing all my Christmas shopping today," she said. "There are great deals around. It may have been easier to do it online but it's great to be here enjoying the atmosphere."

Managers said footfall at Victoria Square was up "significantly" this year compared to 2015, with savings of up to 50% in some shops, and high-end retailers such as Cruise offering a £40 gift voucher with every £200 spent.

Initial reports also suggest that spending was up on last year, and although some sales started earlier in the week there were plenty of additional deals yesterday.

Stena Line employee Gordon Irons (40), from Stranraer in Scotland, said he was visiting Belfast for the day purely to avail of the bargains on offer.

"I'm impressed with the deals and I've spent a couple of hundred pounds," he said.

Dental nurse Erica Holmes from Crumlin said she'd taken the day off work to go shopping, adding that she had a budget of £300.

"I've bought clothes and boots and I've saved around £100 so far," said the 35-year-old. "I'm on my way to the Disney Store now where I'm hoping to get a 20% discount on items I've had my eye on for a while."

Tracy Cunningham, an educational psychologist from Forkhill, said she enjoyed doing her Christmas shopping on Black Friday.

"It's quite a long list so I expect to spend around £600 in total today," she added.

Electricals, clothing, footwear, beauty products and homeware are traditionally much sought-after products and this year proved no different.

By mid-afternoon the streets were thronged and stores were packed with thrifty shoppers. There was a huge build-up of traffic attempting to enter the city centre in search of somewhere to park.

Carrickfergus couple John (82) and Georgie Brown (72) hadn't experienced Black Friday before. "We're just looking for bargains. Who knows what we'll end up going home with," said John.

Retired special needs teacher Marie Rooney (61), from Belfast, was in town with her grandchildren Ella (5), Lucy (2) and one-year-old Dylan.

"We came to see the Christmas tree," she said. "The children are disappointed that Santa isn't here yet. If it wasn't for them I'd probably join in on this shopping frenzy."

Finance students at Ulster University in Jordanstown Meiling Nui (21) and Ying Ruan (21) said they were doing their Christmas shopping.

"We've seen lots of bargains and we're probably going to spend about £300 each on gifts for people," said Meiling.

Project officer Frances Waugh (50) and her sister Ann McFarland (59), a carer from Lisburn, said they booked a day off work specifically for Black Friday.

"We haven't set a budget but we do have a list in our heads," said Frances.

Ann added: "We decided not to go online because we wanted to come into town and go into the shops to feel the buzz instead."

Belfast couple Brian and Karen Beattie, both 40, who have three children aged nine, 11 and 13, said: "We've spent £150 in the last hour but we have also made some excellent savings and that really does make it worthwhile."

While more than £2bn was expected to be spent yesterday in the UK, the total for the next four days is forecast to rise to more than £4bn once the weekend and Cyber-Monday are included.

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