Footfall improves for Northern Ireland's shops after eight months of steady decline
Footfall in Northern Ireland's shops grew during February, ending eight months of consecutive decline, according to latest figures.
The fresh statistics from retail analysts Springboard show that footfall here grew by 0.3% in the four weeks to February 24, which is above the UK average of a 0.5% fall. It marks an improvement on Northern Ireland's three and 12-month averages of -1.7% and -2.3%.
The high street and retail parks here both saw footfall growth of 1.9%.
But the average decline in footfall of 2.3% over the past 12 months is the highest in the UK.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, commented that, while the figures were welcome, they are "definitely not a cause for celebration".
"The retail industry already faces its own structural challenges, with margins shrinking, and costs growing due to a lack of decisions in public policy," he said.
"Our archaic rates system is not fit for purpose with retail being only 12% of the economy but paying 23% of business rates.
"The option in the department of finance's budgetary outlook to raise business rates yet further will simply pile on the pressure and could lead to shop closures and job losses.
"Similarly if no decisions are taken to reform the apprenticeship levy here in Northern Ireland then employers of scale will not be able to access the funds that they have been paying in for a year, with the levy becoming yet another tax on employment."
Diane Wehrle, Springboard's marketing and insights director, said key to February's result was an improvement in daytime footfall. She added that a clearer picture of how 2018 is shaping up for traders will be evident in the second quarter of the year.