Industry heartened as Northern Ireland shops outperform UK counterparts
Footfall in Northern Ireland's shops increased for the second month in a row during March, with a 1.2% rise outperforming the UK average, according to figures released today.
Industry leaders have said they are "heartened" by the figures for March, which indicate improving fortunes for all three retail sectors in Northern Ireland - high streets, out-of-town centres and shopping centres.
The buoyancy marks the eighth month of the past 12 in which footfall increased across all sectors of shopping destinations, according to retail analysts Springboard and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.
Though footfall rose last month, it was, however, down slightly on the 1.3% year-on-year rise in February.
But March's Northern Ireland increase was healthier than the 0.2% increase in the UK as a whole.
And despite the general improvement in shopping traffic, the 0.7% lift in retail parks in Northern Ireland in March was lower than the 3.8% across the UK.
A breakdown of the Northern Ireland figures show fortunes for shopping centres rose by 2.5% while both high street and out-of-town centres attracted 0.7% more shoppers in March.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, described the figures as "heartening".
He said they marked "the eighth month of the past 12 that have seen successive monthly expansion in footfall growth across Northern Ireland's shopping destinations".
He said retailers were working hard to attract custom through improved service, pricing and promotions.
"But whether this - coupled with encouraging news of late on rising employment and wages -translates into a greater propensity to spend in shops or online remains to be seen," he said.
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: "Unlike the UK as a whole, activity rose in all three location types, albeit that the 0.7% uplift in retail parks in Northern Ireland in March was lower than the 3.8% recorded across the UK." She said the underperformance of retail parks in Northern Ireland contrasted with the rest of the UK - where retail parks were developing a more leisure-oriented format, as well as developing key click-and-collect points for online transactions.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said that despite some major shop closures, shoppers were spending again: "While footfall is important, sales and money in the tills is the key indicator."
He said the "new vision for retail" was a "vibrant mix of hospitality, bars, restaurants and cafes" within town centre.
"Out-of-town big-box retailing belongs to the past and the future of retail is in town centres and high streets which are constantly adapting to what modern consumers demand."
Dr Karise Hutchinson at the Ulster University's Business School said the figures reflected a "rebalancing".
"We are still witnessing a rebalancing of shops in the high street taking into account the high number of charity, coffee and pound shops constituting the make-up of physical space in comparison to the retail provision.
"I would argue that changes in consumer behaviour with priority for convenience is leading to growth in click-and-collect service, which we can see is leading to increase in footfall in local neighbourhood stores."
increase in footfall for Northern Ireland's shops over the past month