'Good news' for high street shops
Trade levels in Northern Ireland's shops are showing signs of improvement.
The number of shoppers fell by 2% year on year last month, relatively stable compared to the previous month's drop. Almost a fifth of premises were vacant.
But Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium which represents large firms such as Tesco, said business was moving in the right direction.
"The decline in the numbers of shoppers we are seeing has slowed, and while we've still seen two per cent less people visiting shops than in January 2013, that's a significant improvement over the numbers we saw in the final quarter of last year," he said.
"This good news for retailers helps to explain the rise in sales we have been seeing and shows that retailers have done well in pitching their sales and new ranges in January to tempt shoppers in.
"Despite the wet and windy weather over the month, people have still been visiting our shops."
According to the organisation, the shop vacancy rate has marginally improved.
Mr Connolly added: "Empty shops hurt local economies, so there is also good news in the small drop in the number of vacant units across Northern Ireland to 18%.
"While that number remains high, it is an improvement. To make a larger dent in this problem, it is important for everyone to work together to reduce the costs of operating properties."