Traders hoping for Christmas dash to salvage a difficult year
It's make or break time.
Retailers have spoken of the importance of bumper sales over the next few days as Northern Ireland consumers make their final Christmas shopping dash.
After a year of mixed fortunes for the industry, retail expert Donald McFetridge explained Christmas, into New Year, is the vital "make or break" trading season.
A Northern Ireland Retail Consortium spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph now is the most important time of the year for retailers "with one in five sales happening in this period".
"Unsurprisingly, retailers rely on the huge spike in sales that happens over the week leading up to the big day," he added.
With just three shopping days until Christmas, Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), said 2014 had been a better year for its members than 2013, as a result of "increasing consumer confidence and spending", but also said that our economy was "too slow" and "we are a long way behind the rest of the UK".
"The last few days of Christmas shopping are absolutely vital for independent retailers as Christmas is one the key points of the calendar when they make a significant part of their profit," he added.
Mr Roberts explained, in 2015, business rates were going to be "by far the biggest issue" for traders.
"We have a perfect storm of rates issues, including the rates revaluation, the future of the small business rate relief scheme and the entire future direction of rating policy," he said.
"Also vital is the new super councils taking responsibility on April 1, as they will have a big role in the future of our town centres and planning".
NIIRTA member Chris Suitor and his family run Suitor Menswear and Law Suit shops in Belfast city centre.
"The three weeks before Christmas and the three weeks after provides a quarter of our overall year's turnover," Chris said.
"We have been busy, sales are very good and consistent with last year, which we are happy with.
"We will start our sale on Boxing Day. In previous years we have done it before Boxing Day to drive sales but we haven't had to do that this year."
Deirdre McCanny of Co Couture said winning a series of awards this year had generated extra interest in her Chichester Street-based chocolate shop.
"Thankfully we have been really steady and our products are selling fast," she said.
"We are working round the clock to keep up with demand.
"The coming days are vital for us as this is what carries us through January and February."
Claire McCallion, the manager of Liberty Blue fashion store in Lombard Street, said its sale offers will start today.
"These days from last Thursday until Christmas Eve are our busiest," she said. "Business has been better than last year as there has been no unrest and bomb scares this Christmas, thankfully.
"We have a very loyal customer base who seek us out, so we are lucky."
Caroline Scott from Richhill in Co Armagh was among the shoppers in Belfast yesterday keen to take advantage of pre-Christmas offers.
"Having sales before Christmas Day gives people the opportunity to save, with money being tight for people," she said.
"I got my grandchildren some great clothes.
"I am enjoying shopping in Belfast but I will definitely not be shopping on Boxing Day.
"I like Christmas to be traditional, at home with family."