Bounceback still sluggish but signs encouraging, says trade body
Local shopping habits may be bouncing back better than other UK regions, but missing office workers are still a big loss to the high street, a trade body said today.
According to a report by the NI Retail Consortium, footfall in shops was down 20.6% in June compared to the same month two years ago in 2019.
But that level of was above the UK average of 27.6% compared to 2019, leaving Northern Ireland with the shallowest decline in any region.
However, our footfall slump in June was 5.7 percentage points worse than May.
The trade body and Sensormatic IQ now compare the latest retail footfall figures with statistics from 2019 to measure present day shopping habits with the pre-pandemic era.
It found that footfall in shopping centres here was down 16.9% during June compared to 2019.
That contrasts with a more shallow fall of 4.2% in May.
In Belfast footfall was down 22.3% compared to June 2019, which was also a two percentage point decline from May.
NI Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly said: “Although Northern Ireland still leads the pack in footfall bounceback across the UK, we are still five percentage points worse than last month and 20 percentage points down on the last comparable year, which was 2019.
"This shows that there is still much to do and that our towns, cities and shopping destinations are still feeling the pinch of workers not being back in the office and the spend that generates on everything from food-to-go to clothes.”
He said costs were also going up due to the impact of Covid-19, while a squeeze from growing shipping and commodity prices was hitting non-food items in particular.
He added the long-term impact of the Protocol, which has kept Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods while introducing checks on food products coming from Britain, was also a concern.
He said: “We still are no closer to agreeing a trusted trader scheme between the EU and the UK, which we need to keep choice and affordability for NI households.
"We need the Government and the EU to work together to deliver this scheme with urgency and live up to their commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile, west Belfast’s Park Centre said its trading performance had been strong since non-essential retail reopened in April.
Seventy per cent of its space had traded fully during the pandemic, as many occupants were categorised as essential retail.
Centre manager Ruth Lindsay said key outlets like Iceland, Home Bargains, Poundland and B&M Stores had all reported strong trading since non-essential retail reopened.
Wee Dotes, a new baby clothes ship, has also opened up in the Park Centre.
And seasonal goods like garden furniture, plants and floors and barbecue equipment were selling at “a record rate”, Ms Lindsay added.