Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland retail is hit by slump in shopper numbers with 'black trading cloud'

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland's high streets and retail parks have been dealt a "black trading cloud" after suffering a huge slump of 6.5% in shopper numbers last month, new figures show.

Footfall fell a further 6.5% during October, compared to a 4.3% decline in September, the highest in the UK, according to the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) with Springboard.

And that's significantly above the three-month average decrease of 4.3%, across the UK as a whole.

The number of shops lying empty is also on the rise here, the new figures have shown.

Shopper numbers fell across the high street, retail parks and shopping centres.

And the vacancy rate for shops here rose to 15.2%, compared with a national average of 9.3%.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the NIRC, said "this a somewhat dreary set of results".

"Northern Ireland's shop vacancy rate has spiked and pierced 15% for the first time in 15 months, whilst shopper footfall has flagged once again.

"Footfall shrivelled across all three shopping destination types - high streets, shopping centres and retail parks - and at a pace faster than witnessed over the past quarter as a whole.

"The rise in shop vacancies is a cause of growing concern, with Northern Ireland's vacancy rate sitting above the UK average."

He said "retailers will be looking for convincing action to lift consumer spirits at a time when higher inflation and costs are eroding household spending power".

Speaking about its own performance, Victoria Square centre manager Michelle Greeves said: "There was small drop in footfall in comparison to 2016 at Victoria Square. However, October showed positive sales growth bolstered by Halloween family-based events."

And Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: "October delivered a black trading cloud for Northern Ireland ahead of the Christmas sales storm.

"Not only was the 6.5% drop in high street footfall the worst result since October last year, but the 6.6% drop in shopping centre footfall was the most severe drop since November 2015.

"The signs of the gathering cloud have been evident in Northern Ireland's footfall trends for a while, with the drop in high street footfall in October resulting in the longest period of continual decline since February 2014."

She said it is "unsurprising therefore that the vacancy rate in Northern Ireland has risen once again".

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.