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Peacocks settles in to city centre roost

Low price fashion outlet Peacocks is set to open a city centre branch in Belfast in another sign of the changing face of retail.

The store at Donegall Place takes the place of leisurewear chain Esprit, which closed two months ago. Esprit had replaced Top Shop, which moved to Victoria Square in 2008.

Peacocks confirmed the news but said it was too early to comment on the possible number of jobs created. Patton Construction is working on the fit-out of the store.

It will be the 24th Peacocks shop to open in Northern Ireland.

The opening is another change to the face of Belfast’s retail scene — a Poundworld discount shop recently opened in the same street, once a magnet for middle market and high-end retailers.

Donald McFetridge, retail analyst from the Ulster Business School at the University of Ulster, said that the spread of the Peacocks brand signals danger for middle market traders.

“The drapery sector has become increasingly polarised due to the current economic climate,” he said.

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“Retailers such as Primark and Peacocks who are known as value retailers are continuing to trade extremely successfully as are those at the top end of the market, like Prada, Hermes and Gucci — even though they don't as yet have a presence in Belfast or Northern Ireland.

“This polarisation leaves those in the middle market such as Marks & Spencer and Next, for instance, incredibly vulnerable.

“Middle market retailers are, therefore, always in a slighter weaker trading position.”

McFetridge added: “The fact that Peacocks is replacing a retail unit vacated by Esprit is hardly surprising. Consumers are increasingly price-driven and are looking for “quick fixes” with cheaper clothing ranges.

“We live in an era of disposable clothing with retailers like Zara claiming to have 26 seasons per year as opposed to the traditional spring, summer, autumn and winter collections. Cash-strapped consumers are looking to value retailers like Peacocks and Primark for the latest fashions at affordable prices.”

Colin Matthewson, retail director at Osborne King, commercial property agents, said: “Firms like Peacocks have been on the ascendency for some time and their success is a reflection on what is happening to the market overall,” he said.

“Rather than go into a complex like Victoria Square, Peacocks will keep their overheads down and be more visible by going onto a street-front location, while Victoria Square will continue to corner the middle to high-end markets attracting perhaps a different kind of customer.”

Albert Frank Peacock founded the company in Warrington, Cheshire in 1884 as a Victorian Penny Bazaar.

In 2002 the Peacock Group acquired value retailer Bonmarche.

The announcement of the new store flies in the face of warnings last week that high cotton prices would spell an end to cheap fashion.