Belfast Telegraph

Retail chief in warning after slump in high street footfall

‘Not tenable’: Aodhan Connolly
‘Not tenable’: Aodhan Connolly
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Retail Armageddon is on the way, it's been claimed - unless councils and a future Assembly can work to improve the lot of retailers after shopper footfall fell by 5.2% in June.

Last month's collapse in shopper numbers in Northern Ireland was the steepest fall of all the UK nations, according to today's survey by Springboard and the NI Retail Consortium

High street footfall was down by nearly 6.9% in Northern Ireland - again, the worst rate of all UK nations. But shopping centre footfall had recovered, with a decline of 0.2% in June compared to 2.8% in May.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said the performance was "extremely disappointing".

"Our high streets and retail parks really felt the hit last month with falls of just under 7%. Continued falls like this are just not tenable," he said.

"Retailers have been working hard to encourage NI shoppers to spend their time and money in retail centres but we need support to do that.

"Retail in Northern Ireland is likely to contract, as it has begun to do across the UK.

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"The high streets of tomorrow are going to look very different from today and we need local councils and an Assembly to take bold decisions on supporting retail, hospitality and leisure." Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said the 5.2% fall in June compared with a 3.6% increase in June last year.

But she said that across the year so far, there had been just a 1.5% fall, compared to 1.1% the year before.

"Given the exceptional and ongoing disruptive political and economic period we are facing coupled with unprecedented structural changes in the retail sector, we might actually expect consumer activity to have taken an even greater hit," she said.

"In context, therefore, the footfall performance has shown more resilience than expected."

But she said the relative success of high streets in regional cities in the UK demonstrated that they were able to attract more people by offering more to do than just shop.

In contrast to Northern Ireland's 6.9% decline, high streets elsewhere were down 0.6%.

Shopping centres - particularly larger ones - were also giving opportunities for other activities, such as dining out.

Overall, shopping centres in the province had performed better with the 0.2% footfall decline comparing to drop of 5.6% across the UK.

But the bigger the shopping centre, the better the performance, she said.

"The rule of 'experience delivering results' applies equally to shopping centres as it does for high streets.

"In the largest centres across the UK of more than half a million sq ft the drop in footfall was just -0.5%, and only -0.1% in those largest centres with a strong dining offer.

"So it is clear that consumer demand is polarised between convenience and accessibility and consumers' craving for experience, driving them towards larger retail destinations."

Belfast Telegraph