Black Friday sales provide timely boost for Northern Ireland high street
Black Friday sales helped Northern Ireland's high street buck the UK-wide trend of falling retail spending, new footfall data has suggested.
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With a new tunnel reopening one of Belfast's most important retail thoroughfares this week, analyst Springboard said Northern Ireland's high street footfall experienced a 6.4% year-on-year rise in the week beginning November 18.
Against a UK high street average of -6.8%, Northern Ireland was the only region to record an increase for the seven days, which includes Black Friday (November 24).
High street footfall also showed a 2.6% improvement in Northern Ireland on the previous seven days. It represents some positive news for retail after one of the most difficult periods in the recent history of Northern Ireland's high street.
Footfall in some of Belfast's key retail areas has been decimated since fire engulfed Primark's flagship Bank Buildings store on August 28. Emergency measures put in place afterwards effectively cut the city centre in half, with footfall down by up to 60% in some locations.
Springboard's most recent data, for the week ending Saturday, December 1, also showed Northern Ireland's high street as the best performing in the UK.
It was down just 0.3% on the same week last year despite the Primark impact - offering some sign of encouragement for retail here.
By contrast, other regions of the UK saw year-on-year footfall drop by up to 9.4% last week.
The the new access tunnel around Primark has enabled four stores to reopen. Argento, McDonald's, Skechers and Spar have all recommenced trading.
The reopening of Primark in Commonwealth House on Saturday (December 8) is expected to drive more footfall into the area.
Retail NI chief executive, Glyn Roberts, said it has been a welcome development for both city centre traders and shoppers. "While the tunnel is not a perfect solution, it does allow improved access for shoppers and for the opening of most of the businesses within the cordon. Businesses in Belfast city centre have suffered significantly due to the Primark fire, but we are confident things will improve due to the opening of the walkway and the excellent retail and hospitality on offer this Christmas," he added.
There was more positive news on the retail front yesterday, with Sports Direct announcing that it will open a 4,500 sq ft store at the Connswater Shopping Centre. And economist, John Simpson, has estimated that shoppers from the Republic, motivated by the devaluation in sterling, now contribute around £40m a year to Northern Ireland retail centres near the border.