Easter splurge due this week after Northern Ireland shops have dismal March
Footfall in Northern Ireland's shops fell by nearly 4% during March, the second month in a row which has experienced a steep drop, according to a report today.
Research company Springboard said that footfall had declined across all retail destinations - from high streets to retail parks and shopping centres - indicating that many people held back from all forms of shopping activity during the month.
Overall, footfall was down 3.7% - and Springboard said a lacklustre economic performance could be a factor.
A Springboard spokesman said: "Northern Ireland's economic challenges could be a contributing cause to the results, impacting consumer confidence and spending."
However, the Ulster Bank purchasing managers index (PMI) today (below) says business activity had grown during March, though at a slower rate than the UK as a whole.
Last month, Springboard and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium pointed to the failure of political parties to reach agreement in Stormont as a factor holding back spending.
Footfall in Northern Ireland was down by 4.1% during February.
Peter Murray, manager of the Buttercrane Shopping Centre in Newry, said its footfall was down 1.5% during March.
He said Springboard's findings also tallied with a survey by data company Experian, which recorded a 5.22% fall in footfall in March.
And he said the timing of Easter - which last year, fell on March 27 - accounted for much of the slump, with this year's Easter spenders waiting until April to make their seasonal purchases.
"Easter took place earlier last year, which led to a spike in business in the run-up to and for the week after Easter.
"That was great, but we haven't gotten to that stage yet."
Meanwhile, Thomas Wallace, a director at Wallace's department store in Ballymena, Co Antrim, said its performance in March had been strong. Springboard has also forecast a bumper Easter for retail across the UK, predicting a jump of 5.4% over Easter weekend.
And Diane Werhle from Springboard predicted that the timing of Easter in the middle of the month two weeks after payday would help retail.
"Last year Easter took place on March 27, a few days in advance of national payday for many shoppers. This combined with poor weather conditions, impacted footfall, which declined across retail destinations from Easter Saturday onwards."
Mr Wallace said he expected crowds of Easter shoppers. "With the weather improving, we're likely to see plenty of shoppers and ladies getting their fashions for church at Easter."