Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Fight for shoppers is real retail battle

The traders of Lisburn have been quick off the mark to advertise their retail attractions, at the expense, they hope, of Belfast.

Their Christmas advertising campaign is trying to lure shoppers to the city because Belfast has been experiencing traffic and other problems of late, and the claims of a "stress free" Lisburn might seem more attractive.

The Lisburn campaign may be a little tongue-in-cheek and, in a difficult trading period, it could be argued that all is fair in love and retail competition.

It remains to be seen whether or not shoppers will take up the offer from Lisburn, and the Belfast authorities appear to be not particularly worried by this quick-thinking marketing initiative from their neighbours.

This is no more than an entertaining commercial spat between two cities at a time when business is scarce, and no doubt both will continue to do all they can to keep their loyal shoppers and set out to attract new customers.

It is clear however, that the real problem facing all traders in the retail business sector is the increasing competition from online shopping. The latest reports indicate that the vacancy rates in retail shopping in Northern Ireland are 20%. This shocking statistic is double the rate in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Customers cannot be blamed for trying to find more and better bargains during a recession, and if they discover that the prices of traders on the internet are more competitive than those on the high street, there can only be one conclusion-namely that the retail section is facing a massive threat that does not look like going away.

Retailers have added costs and overheads which eat into their profits and competitiveness, despite their attempts to provide a better service, and not too many shoppers will be put off because some big online traders like Amazon play little tax.

In the short-term the Government and the traders must try even harder to develop a successful strategy for the retail sector. Otherwise there will be an increasingly bleak future for the high street.

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