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Christmas tough for retailers with fall in number of shoppers

By Claire McNeilly

Published 18/01/2016

Northern Ireland's beleaguered retail sector suffered a challenging Christmas trading period, new figures have revealed
Northern Ireland's beleaguered retail sector suffered a challenging Christmas trading period, new figures have revealed

Northern Ireland's beleaguered retail sector suffered a challenging Christmas trading period, new figures have revealed.

A report published today shows a 1.1% drop in shopper numbers in December compared to the previous year.

But the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) said footfall was significantly up on the 7.6% fall experienced in November 2015.

NIRC boss Aodhan Connolly said retailers were rising to meet the ever growing demands of the marketplace.

"This has been a challenging festive period for retailers with the strong pound against the euro as well as the growth of the online market," he said.

"The fact that footfall was only 1.1% down year on year proves, however, that retailers have met this challenge head on by not only providing great value to Northern Ireland's consumers but a great shopping experience.

"2016 brings challenges, especially in the rise of the cumulative burden of taxation and regulation but also opportunities, the biggest of those being the current review of business rates.

"We need our politicians to have not only the will but the courage to change this outdated tax and make Northern Ireland truly ready for business in the 21st century."

Retail expert Donald McFetridge said more consumers are now shopping online.

"Information technology has improved, access to computers, tablets and mobile devices has increased at an amazing speed right across all age categories and in all socio-economic and lifestyle groupings," he said.

"This year we have already witnessed strong growth in purchasing behaviour from mobile devices, particularly smartphones. Last year was the year of the tablet purchasing trend; this year the smartphone will reign supreme."

UK footfall was down 2.2% in December compared to a year ago, following on from a 2.1% decline the previous month.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said online shopping had a detrimental effect on the high street - although Northern Ireland fared better than other regions.

"The 4% drop in UK footfall was the most severe since November 2014, and far deeper than the 1.8% drop in December 2014. However, high streets in Northern Ireland had greater resiliency with a more modest drop of just 0.7%," she said.

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