Belfast Telegraph

Rotten end to rotten year for struggling retailers

By Clare Weir

Another day, another retailer begins to disappear from Northern Ireland's high street.

With Scottish denim purveyors D2 following Barratts and Priceless shoe chain into a second administration, it's a rotten end to a rotten year for retail and it seems like barely a week is going by without another well-known name hitting hard times as money-conscious consumers cut back on their spending.

In 2011 alone, previous big-hitters like TJ Hughes, Jane Norman, La Senza and Blacks Leisure - which owns the Millets chain - have run into trouble, while Thorntons, Mothercare and HMV have all recently issued profit warnings.

In what has been a week of gloomy news, even supermarket giant Tesco has been named in a report by retail research firm Verdict as likely to be "the most challenged grocer" in 2012 as rivals ramp up the competition with more outlets and cut-price deals.

Furthermore, according to the report, electrical, DIY and furniture purchases are set to nose-dive by hundreds of millions of pounds.

It has been warned by many analysts, both in Northern Ireland and in the wider UK, that the first few months of the year may see some of the harshest ever trading conditions as consumers continue to tighten their belts.

Retail sales are predicted to grow just 1.2% in 2012, the third lowest rate in 40 years.

Diversity and adaptability are going to be key to survival.

The old-fashioned attitude - that you can keep reaping the same profits by the same actions - is not good enough when consumers are less likely than ever to give over their cash in these straightened times.

And it will be interesting to see which retailers have fared best as the nation's favourites begin to reveal their trading figures next week.