Northern Ireland retailers to ring in £24m bonanza with Boxing Day sales
Northern Ireland shoppers are expected to spend £24m in the Boxing Day sales - handing retailers a much-needed boost.
Today has traditionally been one of the key dates in the retail calendar.
And while there has been a decline in footfall in recent years, tens of thousands of people are still expected to hit the high street in search of a bargain.
For many stores, the sales have already started.
A surge in online shopping in recent years, and unprecedented pre-Christmas discounting due to extended Black Friday sales throughout November, has forced some retailers to act early.
Discounting had also been predicted to increase in the final shopping days before Christmas Day, with Deloitte estimating that savvy shoppers could save up to 50% on some high street items.
Some retailers are also anticipated to offer discounts of 50% and more on certain items from today onwards.
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Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, acknowledged pre-Christmas discounts had been an even bigger trend this year, but was optimistic consumers here will continue to take advantage of the big deals today - driving retailers' profits into early 2020.
"This year the sales started earlier and with a wider range, which has been good news for consumers as not only has this made Christmas more affordable, it also means that they have been able to spread the cost of Christmas a bit more," he said.
"December accounts for about an eighth of everything that retailers sell during the year and keeps them going during the leaner months at the start of the new year."
He continued: "So it is really important that they have great offers in the run-up to Christmas and in the post-holiday sales - our industry is hoping shoppers avail of the keen pricing.
"It's very clear that there are plenty of bargains to be had online and in-store across Northern Ireland."
Economist John Simpson predicted that Northern Ireland consumers will spend £24m today alone - £1m less than in 2018 - while the rest of the UK will part with around £1.5bn - up from £1.4bn in 2018.
Addressing the disparity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, he explained: "Things are not looking quite so buoyant. We now have a situation where businesses and households are facing an uncertain year in 2020.
"This will cause a certain amount of hesitation in people's spending income. The Christmas splurge does mean families get into debt, so come Boxing Day cool reflection sets in and now is the time for being careful."
Citing Brexit and overall uncertainty in the economy for the next 12 months, Mr Simpson said he expected shoppers to be more constrained in the sales than in previous years.
"The prospects in 2020 are that some jobs will disappear, and that a certain amount of change will take place because of Brexit, and life overall will be that bit more uncomfortable," he said.
Mr Simpson explained that this may prompt some shoppers to hold on to what they have in their bank accounts today - rather than hit the high street or log online.
But Glyn Roberts (inset), chief executive of Retail NI, said Boxing Day still has a significant appeal for shoppers in Northern Ireland. "I think it's still a big occasion for non-food retailers. Of course sales are earlier and earlier with some big high street retailers starting their sales a week ago," he said.
"People have gift vouchers and money from Christmas to spend, and for some people, cabin fever has set in and they just want to get out of the house so they do the Boxing Day sales."
Mr Roberts said Belfast city business owners had been "working harder than ever" to encourage shoppers to support the capital, which is still recovering from the Primark fire of August 2018.
For much of the year, stores within the cordoned zone had remained closed, but earlier this month, the last business to reopen its doors - the City Picnic restaurant - returned with a £500k revamp.
Mr Roberts added: "Traders have been working harder than ever to make the retail experience better, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us."
Meanwhile, industry analysts will be looking carefully at the performance of clothing and homeware giant Next for an insight into the public appetite for spending today.
The retailer, widely accepted as a barometer of the Boxing Day sales, has over the years become the dominant player with its annual festive sale, which has become an unmissable sit-out for thousands across the UK.
In Northern Ireland queues are expected across their 24 stores ahead of the doors opening at 5am.