Belfast Telegraph

Boost for Northern Ireland retail as high streets see modest rise in footfall

Aodhan Connolly, director of the NIRC
Aodhan Connolly, director of the NIRC

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland's retailers enjoyed a welcome increase in shopper numbers in July following a slump a month earlier. Last month saw footfall numbers grow by a modest 0.5% in Northern Ireland. That outpaced the UK average of 0.3%.

And it comes after a wet June led to a 2.5% drop in footfall, according to the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC).

Aodhan Connolly, director of the NIRC, said the results are "heartening for Northern Ireland's retail industry".

There were also fewer shops lying empty across Northern Ireland's high streets and out-of-town developments, with the vacancy rate dropping to 15.3%, down from 16.1% in April. "(There was a) welcome reduction in the shop premises vacancy rate after a slight dip last quarter, as well as a small but still significant rise in footfall," said Mr Connolly

"Indeed, footfall has risen in two of the past three months, showing that retailers are meeting head-on the structural changes to the industry, including the ongoing popularity of online retailing. While again it is encouraging to see vacancy rates fall in two of the past three quarters, it remains to be seen whether this reflects units being taken up on a temporary or more sustained basis. Retailers' prospects are ultimately determined by the state of the economy, the balance between their income and costs, and their own ability to adapt and seize on the opportunities that arise.

"These are testing times for the industry which is one of Northern Ireland's largest private sector employers, and the Stormont Executive and MLAs can assist by taking tangible action in the upcoming detailed Programme for Government, to bolster consumer and business sentiment."

He called for a "clear road map" for retailers, including future tax and "regulatory changes, a tight lid on personal and business tax rates and charges".

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Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said: "July saw a break in the clouds in some retail areas, with better weather."

Belfast Telegraph