No festive cheer for retailers hit by sales slump in Northern Ireland
Shopping footfall figures are at their worst level in Northern Ireland in two years with Christmas just two weeks away.
New figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and the Springboard group show the number of shoppers on our high streets dropped by 8% in November compared to last year.
Northern Ireland was the worst performing region in the UK.
Black Friday has been blamed for the poor performance right across the UK, with many people shunning the high streets and shopping centres to buy online.
Diane Wehrle from Springboard said Northern Ireland needed to make things easier for shoppers.
"The learning from the UK-wide November footfall result indicates the winners were those destinations that continue to adopt the old school rules of retail - the three Cs of convenience, choice and customer service," she said.
She argued that the most successful regions focused on retail parks that offered incentives like free parking and that it "no doubt contributes to the continuing volatility of footfall in Northern Ireland".
"There is an evident need for urban shopping destinations to see 2016 as an opportunity to focus on cracking the perennial issue of convenient parking options for shoppers."
Aodhán Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, called the build-up to this Christmas "one of the hardest to read in years". "In the past two years Northern Ireland has truly come of age with online shopping catching up somewhat with our counterparts in GB," he said.
"While this does impact on bricks and mortar retail, it should also be seen as an opportunity for our towns and cities to focus their minds on how we encourage consumers not only to spend their hard-earned cash on the high street but spend their time there through increasing the accessibility and availing of the eclectic retail offer we have as well as the great pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities."
Despite the figures, Michelle Greeves, centre manager at Victoria Square shopping centre in Belfast, said she was still optimistic of a spike in Christmas shoppers.
"Trade in the build-up to Christmas is going just as we'd expect and we anticipate that the next 13 days will be the busiest we've seen," she said.