Fewer visits to shops as prices rise
Footfall in Northern Ireland’s shops declined by 15.5% during February as the cost of living crisis appeared to hit shopping habits, according to a report today.
Data from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium revealed a steeper fall in shop visits for the retail sector here than in the UK as a whole, where footfall was down 14.9%.
The organisation now compares footfall for this year with early 2020 performance, given that much of retail was shut during a succession of lockdowns.
According to the report, the decrease in footfall in February was 6 percentage points worse than January.
Shopping centre footfall was down by 26% in February, which was an improvement on the decline of nearly 28% in January.
And over the month, footfall in Belfast was down 17.8% on February 2020, and 11.5% worse than January.
Belfast’s footfall performance was actually the third-worst of 11 UK cities. The region as a whole was the fourth poorest of 13 regions.
Aodhán Connolly, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, said: “Shopper footfall in Northern Ireland fell in February, compared to the same period prior to the pandemic.
"This was an underwhelming performance after three or four encouraging months and given the rescinding of Covid restrictions in the middle of the month.
"That said, the dip wasn’t uniform across all destinations as shopping centres saw a modest improvement during the month.”
Mr Connolly said concerns about the rising cost of living may have affected people’s inclination to visit the shops.
“However, these figures do underline the protracted nature of the recovery and the need for continued support from policy makers particularly in the short-term to encourage and entice shoppers back,” he added.
"With much of our wider economy ultimately dependent on what happens to consumer spending it is crucial that the election manifestos of the political parties take a coherent approach to supporting the industry and the customers it serves.”
Footfall in Northern Ireland did enjoy a lift from the Department for the Economy’s retail voucher scheme.
The giveaway of a pre-paid £100 card to every adult in Northern Ireland injected £136.6m into the local economy.
Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, which collated the data, said that UK governments had hoped the easing of Covid restrictions would mean “the beginning of the end”.
But he added that the cost-of-living squeeze and inflation, along with the war in Ukraine, could bring yet more uncertainty for consumers and impede the long-term recovery of retail.