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Retailers optimistic despite drop in Northern Ireland shopper numbers

Shopper numbers in Northern Ireland have continued to fall, although experts claim the retail sector is starting to move in the right direction.

A new report published today, found footfall was down 2% in January compared with the same period last year.

The news that this January's footfall figures are down on last year's – when shoppers stayed away due to Union flag protests and related disruption – will be seen as worrying.

However, that small drop still represents improvement when compared with the 8.7% slump recorded in December 2013.

The slump in shoppers in Northern Ireland sits in sharp contrast to the whole of the UK, where there was an overall increase of 1.6%.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium boss Aodhan Connolly said the figures from Springboard are good news for traders because they show that the situation is looking up – despite the recent adverse weather conditions.

"We are starting to see things moving in the right direction in Northern Ireland," he said.

"The decline in the numbers of shoppers we are seeing has slowed, and while we've still seen 2% less people visiting shops than in January 2013, that's a significant improvement over the numbers we saw in the final quarter of last year."

Mr Connolly also welcomed the fact that there was "a small drop in the number of vacant units across Northern Ireland to 18%".

Four regions had a vacancy rate lower than the UK average – Greater London (6.4%), the East (10.0%), the East Midlands (10.9%) and South East (9.7%).

Northern Ireland and Wales reported the highest vacancy rates, at 18% and 16.4% respectively, an improvement on the October figures, while Scotland remained unchanged at 11.1%.

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said the statistics showed the province was faring worse than anywhere else in the UK.

"With a drop in footfall of 2%, Northern Ireland's retail locations were less resilient in January than the UK as a whole, which recorded an increase of 1.6%," she said.

"However, in line with the UK, it is retail parks that led the way with an increase in footfall of 3.7% reflecting the increased demand for furniture which underpinned January's positive sales performance. The drop from 18.4% to 18% suggests a degree of optimism about future trading conditions.''

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