Boxing Day blues on high street as sales fail to lure shoppers
Sales on Boxing Day on Northern Ireland's high streets were a washout with footfall down 21% on the year before, figures suggest.
Statistics from research body Springboard show a dismal performance for high streets stores on December 26 - despite the lure of bargains at major retailers like Next.
Footfall in the UK as a whole on Boxing Day was down by 11.3%.
Consumers' appetite for shopping on what is traditionally one of the busiest days in the retail calendar may have been hit by the heavy rain.
However, the performance here on Friday, December 27 was also poor, down 9%, compared to a fall of just 3.6% in the UK as a whole.
Shoppers continued to stay away on Saturday, December 28, with a fall of 13.2% in Northern Ireland.
Growth of nearly 40% for Monday, December 30 helped lift the figures overall. The boost is partly explained by December 30 falling on a Sunday in 2018, with longer hours available for shopping this year.
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The available figures for Northern Ireland do not include shopping centres and retail parks, where a large proportion of people do their shopping.
UK-wide, shopping in all types of destinations was up only 11% on December 30. Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said that UK-wide centres and parks had outperformed high streets over Christmas.
Overall, taking into account the December 30 boost, Christmas footfall in Northern Ireland high streets was down 5.3% overall - slightly better than a 5.5% slump UK-wide.
Ms Wehrle said, in other parts of the UK, Boxing Day performance improved in the evenings when people popped into the shops during an excursion for something to eat or to the cinema.
But in Northern Ireland footfall after 5pm was worse, going from a decline of 19% before 5pm to 21% after 5pm.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said: "Bleak Boxing Day sales may have a lot of explanations, from the Christmas sales and shopping season being longer this year to people not wanting to spend just as much. "The fact footfall has been poorer across the UK is of some comfort that Northern Ireland has not seen the only drop and as we know the Northern Ireland shopper is more affected by stimulus and our footfall is therefore more erratic."
He said the type of "stimulus" which typically affects local consumers' urge to shop ranges from job security to Brexit and economic concerns.
Ms Wehrle said the good shopping performance of December 30 made up for Boxing Day.
She added: "People at that point may have decided they'd had enough of sitting around and were ready to go out again into the shops."
A spokeswoman for Coleraine department store Dixons, which is holding a retirement sale ahead of its closure, said it had been extremely busy over Christmas though it had opted not to open on Boxing Day.
"We had a really crazy couple of days after Christmas, and the shop is really emptying out," she said.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the figures reflected changing Christmas sale habits, with sales more spread out on either side of Christmas.
But he added: "These are challenging times for our retail sector; 2020 will be the year of reinvention for our sector and for our high streets and town centres."
He that said a new Northern Ireland Assembly needs "a big, bold and radical plan" for creating 21st century town and city centres.