Retailers get lift with surge in shoppers on high street
Northern Ireland's beleaguered retailers experienced "a glimmer" of hope in May after a surge in shoppers boosted flagging numbers, experts have said.
New data shows it was the best footfall performance on the local high street for almost two years and better than any other region in the UK.
It comes after financial experts last week predicted an influx in people coming from the Republic to the province to shop because of a "perfect storm" of currency shifts and tax changes.
A report by the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) and Springboard published today shows footfall in Northern Ireland rose by 3.4% last month.
NIRC boss Aodhan Connolly said the figures were significantly up on the 5.9% fall experienced in April 2016, indicating retailers were rising to meet the ever growing demands of the marketplace.
"This is a glimmer of good news for shops in Northern Ireland but, due to the continued volatile nature of footfall, we'll need to see a few more months of data before we can confidently say that the recovery is sustained.
"Retailers of all sizes have been working hard to attract customers with improved ranges, service and promotions. That hard work continues," he stated.
Mr Connolly said the organisation would work with local government to ensure effective decisions are made to support the retail industry which employs over 70,000 people.
"The new Executive must recognise the cumulative burden faced by retailers in areas as diverse as business rates, the National Living Wage and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy," he added.
Footfall in May was 0.3% up on a year ago, better than the 2.4% decline seen in April and significantly above the three-month average rate of -1.7%.
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, called for caution.
"May's increase in footfall of 3.4 % in Northern Ireland, whilst in sharp contrast to the average decline from February to April of 4.1%, does not necessarily mark the start of a positive trend just yet," she said. "However, the good news is that Northern Ireland's high street footfall rose in each week of the month compared with three out of four weeks across the UK.
"We would need to see at least a three-month increase in footfall to indicate the upward trend spells anything more than a break in the clouds. With the uncertainty created by the EU referendum affecting consumer confidence, it will be challenging for this three month trend to establish just now."
Meanwhile, a new price survey from Irish Revenue and Customs chiefs showed that 15 key products, including alcohol and fuel, are cheaper north of the border prompting speculation that southerners will flock here for bargains as costs continue to fall.