Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's retailers remain positive despite footfall decrease

By Rachel Martin

Northern Ireland's small businesses are remaining positive about Christmas sales despite footfall hitting its worst level in two years.

Some Northern Ireland retailers said they had shops in some towns where sales were down by as much as 10%.

One retailer in Newry said they have had a very bad season, but added that this could also be due to the weak euro and a result of shoppers going across the border for a bargain.

There are various excuses for the drop, including concerns that online sales could be stealing the show.

William Gilliland, who runs designer clothing retailer Excel which has stores in Bangor and Newtownards, said that he had heard retailers try to justify the drop in footfall with several different reasons.

He said his staff had noticed a smaller footfall in the first few weeks in December. However, during the same period, his business saw record sales online.

"In my 28 years of working in retail, I can tell you that people always leave it to the last minute to do their Christmas shopping - no matter what their best intentions are," he said.

"A lot of other retailers have been telling me the same thing.

"Some say you've still got two weeks to go and it could pick up, but you won't know for sure until the end of December."

Mr Gilliland said his two bricks and mortar shops had seen a "phenomenal" Black Friday and a strong October. Overall, sales were ahead on last year, but he added that the last few weeks of November and start of December had been slow.

According to the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, the number of shoppers hitting the high street was down by 7.9% in the run-up to Christmas.

The information gathered by the British Retail Consortium showed Northern Ireland was the region in the UK with the largest drop in footfall. In Scotland, footfall fell by just 4.2% and just 1.9% in Wales.

Only two areas of the UK bucked the trend, with East Midlands and Greater London both experiencing a modest increase in the number shoppers.

Aodhan Connolly, director of Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said Christmas trade here was the "hardest to read in years".

Meanwhile, Gavin Dunlop director at Moda Shoes, said overall some of his shops had been quieter than normal.

He added that across the board sales had been good, with one of his shop's sales up 15% on last year. He said that, overall, sales had been stronger this year compared to 2014.

Stephen McCammon, managing director of Menarys, said that the day Christmas falls on can have an impact on footfall. He said: "It's not until after Christmas that you really know what footfall is like.

"I've noticed there's a different pattern to footfall when Christmas falls on a Tuesday compared to when it falls on a Saturday. I'm still optimistic, there's still two big shopping weeks ahead."

Mr McCammon added that the chain's Letterkenny shop was performing better than expected due to the low euro.

Belfast Telegraph