Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland sales ahead of UK

Retailers buck national trend by increasing festive footfall

Northern Ireland's retailers appear to be bucking the UK trend when it comes to the number of post-Christmas shoppers pouring through their doors.

Shopping malls including Forestside in south Belfast, Victoria Square in Belfast city centre and Foyleside in Londonderry have all reported higher footfall levels compared to the same period last year.

However, retail expert Donald McFetridge has warned that a true picture will not be known until next week when companies reveal their actual trading figures.

He said: "Footfall is not a good way to measure the strength of consumer confidence.

"Some of those figures are based on estimates; not every person who goes through the door is spending and people could be returning goods.

"It's a very mixed bag, some retailers are doing well and some are not doing well. We will only know if takings are up when the trading statements are made in January," he added.

Victoria Square said yesterday it had recorded its busiest Boxing Day and its busiest week ever.

Some 52,628 people passed through the centre, representing a 33.34% increase on 2010 footfall levels and a 33.21% increase on 2009.

Among those caught up in the sales frenzy was DUP councillor Gareth Robinson who tweeted yesterday: "I've got a touch of Christmas blues... Standing in the returns queue at House of Fraser and it's going to be a long wait!"

Victoria Square centre manager Hugh Black said: "As we enter the last week of 2011, we are delighted to report further record footfall levels for Victoria Square. We experienced our busiest Boxing Day ever, which follows a record-breaking week last week, during which we also experienced our busiest day ever.

"It has been a huge relief to all in the retail sector that the weather has been much milder this year, which has undoubtedly helped to improve trade this year. I believe that Victoria Square's high quality retail and hospitality offering - which provides options for shoppers of all budgets - has been key to its success in 2011."

It is understood a number of high street retailers here beat many of their UK counterparts in sales, with at least one store here outperforming every other store in its chain.

However, Mr McFetridge, a lecturer at the University of Ulster, explained that others had also issued profit warnings including Mothercare, HMV and Thorntons - all of which have stores in Northern Ireland.

Forestside has revealed that every retailer in its fully let complex has already surpassed their December sales targets.

Adrian Young, centre manager, said: "We have seen a significant increase with the footfall at the centre over last year with all retailers achieving their December targets.

"It would appear that Northern Ireland bucked the trend in the run-up to Christmas compared to Great Britain, which has seen lower than expected numbers at many of its shopping centres."

Mr McFetridge added: "I still think most people have done their big spending in the lead-up to Christmas.

"There have been discounts on offer from October.

"If the stock had shifted you would not be having these massive discounts."

Belfast Telegraph