Belfast Telegraph

Rain dampens demand and leaves summer stock sitting during June

By Margaret Canning

Rain kept shoppers away from Northern Ireland's high streets and malls during June, resulting in a 2.5% drop in footfall, it was claimed today.

By the last few days of the month, the shock referendum result appeared to have put even more shoppers off, leading to a 7.3% drop in footfall, according to the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC).

However, Northern Ireland's drop in footfall across the month as a whole was lower than the UK-wide decline of 2.8%.

And in the week of the referendum itself, shoppers in the province were out in greater numbers than the week before.

But June's figures were still a contrast with May, when footfall in Northern Ireland went up by around 3%.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, which carried out the NIRC research, said June had seen "a political and economic storm" formed by the referendum result "against a backdrop of downpours and generally inclement weather throughout the month".

"While poor weather will explain some of this, it is more likely consumers held off spending in the immediate aftermath," Mrs Wehrle explained.

"The issue for retailers is how quickly shoppers will return to their usual behavioural patterns."

The referendum was a once-in-a-generation event and the effects of the result are still quite unpredictable.

"We have never been in this situation before of having a referendum of this magnitude, so attention may have been diverted from shopping over that week," Mrs Wehrle said.

And she told the Belfast Telegraph that while footfall may be down, Belfast shops were reporting that customers were spending more, and that shops would now be focused on shifting unwanted summer stock.

But Ms Wehrle said policy varied from retailer to retailer on whether they could instead bring out unsold spring stock, which may be more suited to the present temperatures.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the NIRC, said: "The recovery in shopper numbers witnessed in May proved short-lived, with footfall in Northern Ireland's shopping destinations easing back again last month.

"The dip in footfall numbers was less marked than that of the UK as a whole last month, but was a touch weaker than the average monthly decline seen over the past year as a whole."

But Mr Connolly also added that it was too early to say what impact the Brexit vote would have on consumer and business confidence.

"What is clear is that the devolved administration ought to re-double its efforts to keep down the cost of living and the cost of doing business," he said.

Retailers were already grappling with additional costs, including the apprenticeship levy, a higher national living wage, higher employer pension constructions and increasing rates.

Belfast Telegraph