Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Retailers must take on internet for sales

The latest figures on consumer spending make it clear that the retail sector is suffering badly and that it needs urgent help.

The bad news was partly expected because of the chaos caused by the Union flag protest, but the retailers have already been fighting a long-term battle with the on-line shopping giants. There is no commercial democracy at work here.

A good example of this is the greatly-reduced presence of HMV in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, and much of this is due to the new technology which makes Itunes so widely available to the consumer.

The former photographic giant Jessop's, despite good customer relations, has also fallen foul of technology because millions use their powerful mobile phones to take pictures.

The latest findings by Springboard and the Northern Ireland Retailer Consortium show a 1.4% drop in footfall this year compared to 2012, and that the number of shoppers has fallen to the lowest level for 10 months.

The experts indicate that consumers spent some £250m less in Northern Ireland shops than last year, so if the latest trends continue, the figure could be much worse for 2013. This will cause more closures, and less choice.

The big question facing everyone is what to do about it. In a time of recession, shoppers will naturally seek the best bargains, and many of these are to be found through the internet. Hard-pressed retailers, who have little left in reserve, will have to try even more to attract shoppers as best they can.

Significantly, the latest figures reveal that out of town locations saw the greatest decline of 7.2% of customers, followed by shopping centres at 5.2%. However the high street retailers did less badly with only a 3.3% decline.

This suggests that the greater choice in the high street is more attractive to shoppers, but urgent, imaginative and effective measures need to be taken by retailers, if necessary with more government help, to turn the tide. Otherwise retailing, as we know it, may disappear in the not too distant future.

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