Northern Ireland retailers hit by huge post-Christmas slump as footfall plummets
Northern Ireland's retailers have suffered a huge post-Christmas slump, with shopper numbers falling at a greater rate than anywhere in the UK.
The number of shoppers on high streets and in shopping centres and retail parks across the province fell by 5.1% in February, compared with the previous year.
The decline is significantly higher than the 1.1% drop felt across the UK as a whole.
It has been speculated the slump could be down to a post-Christmas spending lull, as households across Northern Ireland tighten belts, according to Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium. "We have to look at what's going on," he said. "While retailers are trying to meet the challenges of what consumers want, the truth is, in Northern Ireland, we have less than half of the weekly disposable income than households in the rest of the UK.
"What could be happening is people spending money at Christmas, then reining back in. Hopefully, it's a slight blip.
"However, while footfall is not a direct indication of money spent, it shows the retail market in Northern Ireland is volatile."
Across the UK, the number of shoppers at out-of-town retail parks increased by 2.5%, while the high street and shopping centres reported falls.
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But Belfast's two main city centre shopping centres - CastleCourt and Victoria Square - were quiet on the issue, with neither able to respond to requests from this paper. Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said: "Obviously any reduction in footfall is a cause for concern.
"But the only true indicator is sales and money in the till. We should always monitor footfall, and it's vital for town centres. But we shouldn't get too overexcited about these figures."
Mr Roberts said while retail was "going through small, modest growth" it "occasionally has blips".
"January and February, although there are sales, it's always a tough time for retail," he added.
"Into spring, I would expect them to increase in the run-up to Easter and into the summer months."
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: "Footfall in Northern Ireland is typified by volatility, with swings from month-to-month, reflected in a drop in high street footfall of 5.5% in February compared with a rise of 2.6% in January."