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Northern Ireland retailers who stand still wither

By Donald C McFetridge

Published 22/07/2015

Northern Ireland - like every other UK region - suffered a slump in shopper numbers visiting high streets
Northern Ireland - like every other UK region - suffered a slump in shopper numbers visiting high streets

The latest footfall statistics from Springboard and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium make for very disappointing reading, as they indicate that Northern Ireland - like every other UK region - suffered a slump in shopper numbers visiting high streets and shopping centres in June.

In Northern Ireland there was a 3.5% year-on-year drop in shopper numbers visiting these retail locations, while the UK average was 1.5%.

The most important thing for retailers to do when they read these statistics is not to throw up their hands in horror. They must instead realise that the days of "location, location, location" being the three most important words in the retail world are gone. These have been replaced by "location, action and plan".

Retail location has been - and always will be - an important aspect of successful retailing, but the emphasis has changed and in order to continue to attract shoppers retailers must now focus much more on action (what they're doing to attract shoppers) and plan (ie revisit and re-examine how they plan to engage with the consumers of the future).

Tragically, some blame the slump on inclement weather, while others blame the internet. I believe that while these factors can have an impact on footfall, they are only a part of the reason.

Retailers must do much more to attract shoppers into their retail emporia. During the recession there was less money to spend on advertising and shop refitting.

Now is the time to start radically rethinking what action and plans need to be made to ensure a sustainable future on the high street through investing in shop refits, better advertising and better layout and design.

Many retailers simply have not been able to afford to invest in these important aspects of the retail mix, but they cannot remain in a state of inertia forever. Retailers who stand still are simply signing their own death warrants.

One great example of excellence in terms of shop refit is the Applegreen forecourt shop in Coleraine, which is one of the best possible uses of retail atmospherics and design I've come across.

Go have a look and follow their example - and don't forget: "location, action and plan".

  • Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at the Ulster University Business School

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