The £145m Spend Local stimulus scheme has fuelled a bumper November for Belfast retail as shopper numbers surpassed pre-pandemic numbers by 3%, a report has said.
It was the only major UK city to record an improvement in retail performance during the month, according to the NI Retail Consortium.
Its data said footfall around the city’s shops was up 11.6 percentage points on October as more and more of the population got their hands on £100 pre-paid cards funded by the Executive.
The cards had been due to expire on November 30, but the Department for the Economy extended the deadline until December 14. A spokesman said there were no plans for a further extension.
Earlier this week Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said the scheme had pumped £100m into the economy.
Consortium director Aodhán Connolly said: “The high street card scheme is truly proving its value with a phenomenal bounceback in footfall across Northern Ireland, and that footfall is being turned into spend with over £100m being spent from the cards, according to Department for the Economy figures.
“The positive bounceback we saw in October’s figures is even stronger this month with shop visits being 10 percentage points higher than the UK average and almost 15 percentage points higher than Scotland. Belfast had an unprecedented growth of over 11.5 percentage points, bringing it into positive territory for the first time in nearly two years.
“This is hugely welcome news for retailers, who have had the toughest two years on record.
“We are now well into our golden quarter where retailers make the sales that shore them up for the tougher months of less spend in January, February and March.”
Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, which compiled the data, said: “We saw a slight footfall falter in November across the UK, with shopper traffic taking a nominal dip on October’s figures. However, Northern Ireland’s high street recovery continued.
“Shopper counts reached their highest point so far compared to pre-pandemic levels last month, recovering to -5.2% on 2019 figures, as consumer confidence continues to grow and the resurgence in bricks-and-mortar builds back slowly but steadily.”
Meanwhile, the Department for the Economy revealed that around 10,000 people were still awaiting delivery of their Spend Local cards.
It said 1.4m successful applications were made to the scheme, with 1.39m cards dispatched to people.
However, it said thousands were still awaiting the cards, which are expected to be sent in the “coming days”. It said the reason why some may not yet have received their £100 could be due to people having submitted late applications — with around 1,500 submissions falling into this category.
It added those still awaiting the card may have submitted identity verification information late.
In addition, some cards have been held up by errors made in applications, or applications being incorrectly identified as duplicates.
There are less than two weeks left for people to spend the money.
Any cash which has not been spent by then will be returned to the Department for the Economy.