Northern Ireland's 3.3% shopping slump is worst rate in any UK region
Footfall in Northern Ireland's shops slumped by 3.3% during March, the worst rate of decline of all the UK regions, according to a report out today.
And the NI Retail Consortium said concern over the UK's exit from the EU as the original Brexit Day of March 29 approached may have put people off visiting high streets, retail parks and shopping centres.
It also forecast more pressure on spending power from increased domestic and business rates.
According to the report from information service Springboard and the NI Retail Consortium, March's NI performance also brought to an end five months of footfall growth.
Northern Ireland also bucked the wider UK trend, where six out of 10 regions had seen growth on the high street.
But high streets here suffered the steepest decline in the UK at 3.6%, while retail park footfall had also declined at the same rate.
And the last week in March brought the steepest rate of decline in the province at 6%.
In contrast, footfall for UK high streets as a whole had gone up by 2.5% in March, although in March 2018 there had been a dramatic fall of 8.6% the year before.
Across retail parks, shopping centres and high streets, footfall was up 1.4% in the UK as a whole.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said: "Disappointingly, Northern Ireland is now bottom of the UK league table. This fall is not wholly unexpected, however, with both consumer and business confidence taking a knock in the past few months.
"There has been growing uncertainty as we approached the March 29 original Brexit deadline and that uncertainty is reflected in the fact that shoppers did not want to spend as much time in our retail destinations."
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said that the overall figures suggested people were tightening the pursestrings.
"With consumer confidence continuing to languish, shoppers are clearly focused on prudence which is impacting on the number of trips being made to bricks and mortar destinations."
She said the extra time between now and October - after the EU granted the UK an extension for Brexit - must be used wisely.
"We now have a window of six months to prevent this Brexit anxiety from affecting our industry and shoppers again, but rather than breathing easy, our politicians and the EU must make a renewed effort to find a solution that prevents a 'no deal' hard Brexit."
But Mr Connolly said confidence was also being knocked by rises in business and domestic rates - the type of issues which needed local government intervention.
"While Brexit is out of our hands locally, issues such as business rates are not and we need our politicians back working at Stormont now more than ever.
"We need political leadership to take the bold decisions to make Northern Ireland a better place, to live, work and invest."