Belfast Telegraph

Boom in shoppers from South is now over

By Margaret Canning

The boom in cross-border shopping has finally drawn to a close, with a "significant" fall in visits to Northern Ireland stores, figures show.

Statistics from information company Experian for April to June revealed a 6% decline in footfall in shops and shopping centres in the province, as falling Irish supermarket prices led to shoppers from the Republic staying at home.

The Experian national footfall index shows that year-on-year, footfall here decreased by 10.5% in April and 7.5% in May.

Paul Slevin, head of sales and marketing for Experian in Ireland, said the figures indicated the end of shoppers from the Republic being lured by lower prices. At the height of the two-year boom, around 250,000 southern householders were shopping in the province, spending around £7m in 2008.

The strong euro was the main reason for the trend, coming close to parity with sterling in late 2008. But last month sterling hit a 19-month peak of €1.22 against the euro, meaning goods were no longer as cheap in Northern Ireland.

Mr Slevin said: "The Retail Price Index illustrates that prices in the Republic are continuing to fall, so the vast price differentials that existed north and south of the border are dwindling.

"In addition, the value of sterling is rising against the euro, which means that southern shoppers get less for their euro north of the border. It is fair to assume that some of those southern shoppers, who had been visiting Northern Ireland to take advantage of the weaker pound and lower VAT rate, are now looking for better value for money closer to home."

While the figures will be welcomed by retailers in the Republic, they will not be greeted favourably in Northern Ireland.

The province's border areas experienced an economic bounty thanks to the flood of shoppers enticed by bargain goods rendered even cheaper by a lower UK rate of VAT, as well as the strong euro.

But supermarket chains in the Republic, such as Tesco Ireland, have embarked on a price-slashing programme, with Dublin department stores such as Clerys following suit with major price cuts.

January's UK VAT hike to 20% is also expected to further diminish the attractiveness to people in the Republic of spending their money over the border.