Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland high street shops suffering but retail centres still proving popular

By Lisa Smyth

Northern Ireland's shops experienced a 3.3% year on year drop in footfall in September, according to figures released today.

Statistics published by Springboard and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium have also revealed that Northern Ireland fared badly compared to the UK as a whole, which saw a 0.9% decline during the same period.

However, shopping centres did better than the high street in Northern Ireland - seeing a 0.6% year on year drop, compared to a 1.3% year on year drop on the high street.

In fact, Northern Ireland shopping centres bucked the national trend towards decline, with UK shopping centre footfall down at -1.3% year on year.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said that the rate of increase in footfall in retail parks is diminishing across the UK, with a decline in three months of this year and a lower average increase for the year to date, of 1.2% compared with 2.2% last year.

"Changes in their offer including family-friendly restaurants, coffee shops, libraries and cinemas heightened the attractiveness of these locations to shoppers and led to an uplift in footfall," she said.

"Inevitably this rate of increase slows.

"Moving forward into what should be the most lucrative trading period of the year, despite the challenges of a weaker pound and living wage costs, it is critical that staffing remains strong to deliver the level of customer service required to ensure retail destinations offer a quality customer experience."

Aodhan Connolly, NIRC director, said the figures show that even small amounts of uncertainty can change consumer behaviour.

He said this is particularly true as household discretionary income in Northern Ireland is around half of the UK average.

"That is why the NIRC is calling for negotiators to put consumers first in the forthcoming Brexit talks by ensuring their sights are firmly set on keeping shop prices low once the UK leaves the European Union," she said.

"Increased cost pressures on retailers could mean higher shop prices and identifying any opportunities for new trade deals that could benefit individuals and families is crucial.

"If the UK fell back on to World Trade Organisation rules the new tariff rates that the UK would apply to imports from the EU would be highest for consumer staples like food and clothing.

"Our key priorities for Brexit will be protecting our consumers, ensuring a fair deal for EU colleagues and working with the Government to promote growth during what will be a challenging time for retailers and the tens of thousands people they employ in Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph