Belfast Telegraph

Grocery chains missed an opportunity on New Year's Day, claims businessman

Both Lidl and Marks and Spencer were closed in Belfast on New Year's Day
Both Lidl and Marks and Spencer were closed in Belfast on New Year's Day
Chris Suitor
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

The failure of major retail chains in Belfast to open on New Year's Day was a missed opportunity to generate profits, it's been claimed.

Grocery chains Marks & Spencer and Lidl did not open in the city centre on the bank holiday - though other shops did opt to trade.

Lidl confirmed all of its 38 stores in Northern Ireland were closed to mark the bank holiday.

And Marks & Spencer said the majority of its 20 stores in Northern Ireland were closed - with the exception of its Simply Food store close to Belfast International Airport, and its outlet shops at retail parks The Junction and The Boulevard in Antrim and Banbridge.

Retailers have reported a difficult year of trading, with retailers such as M&S hit by the growth in online retail and shaky consumer confidence.

A spokesman for CastleCourt shopping centre said the majority of its tenants, including anchor tenant Debenhams, were open for business, while Victoria Square also opened up.

The spokesman added that trade was level with New Year's Day 2018.

Chris Suitor, the owner of Suitor Menswear in Upper Arthur Street, said he did not open because he did not have enough staff.

But he said he believed bigger retailers should open on New Year's Day where feasible.

"They have a massive rate burden and they need to make good," he said.

"The consumer expects big multi-national retailers to be open, but not us because we're small independents."

Mr Suitor said big chains "have a lot of staff and costs to pay, like wages, rates and costs".

"They need to continue to open over the holidays - plus there's a lot of retail staff who struggle for hours. You could argue we could open, too, but we don't have the staff."

Government website nidirect, states that staff don't have a statutory right to paid leave on bank and public holidays, though many do receive those days off.

The right to time off or overtime for working on a bank holiday depends on the employment contract.

There are no official figures for footfall or sales in Belfast city centre shops on New Year's Day.

But last week, UK figures from retail intelligence specialists Springboard confirmed footfall fell by 3.1% on Boxing Day across high streets, retail parks and shopping centres.

It represents the third year in a row of falling figures and follows on from Boxing Day 2017 and 2016, when the numbers also dropped, by 4.7% and 4% respectively.

Retail parks bore the brunt of the pain this year, recording a 7.2% decline in shopper numbers.

Shopping centres stomached a 5% fall, while high street footfall edged down 0.3%.

Retail giant Next, which has around 20 stores in Northern Ireland, will today become the first big retailer to report its Christmas trading in an update.

Its figures are eagerly-awaited as a potential indicator of the performance of other big companies, such as Sainsbury's, Tesco and Debenhams.

Belfast Telegraph