Belfast Telegraph

Sunnier outlook as visits to Northern Ireland high street rise more than 6% in June

By Margaret Canning

High streets and retail parks in Northern Ireland enjoyed a 3.6% boost in footfall during June with the sunshine encouraging shoppers to spend their money, according to a survey today.

The Springboard study said Northern Ireland's footfall growth was the fastest it had experienced in 18 months and the highest growth of all UK regions.

It was well above recent trends of falling visits to shops and high streets - the three-month average has been a fall of 0.7%, while the 12-month average has been an even steeper fall at 2.2%.

Figures for the high street were the strongest for four years.

However, shopping centre visitors were down 4.4% in June, and the hours of 5pm to 8pm saw a fall in visits of nearly 18%.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: "This month's figures are a small tonic for retailers as Northern Ireland finished head and shoulders above the other countries and regions of the UK. It is particularly encouraging to see the high street having its best footfall result in four years.

"Usually we would be somewhat cautious about highlighting the impact of the weather being a factor in our footfall, but NI consumers are literally buying as the sunshines."

However, he said the good results did not mean an end to the problems facing the retail industry.

"Just as one swallow doesn't make a summer, one set of good results is not a portent to retail revival.

"If we are to capitalise on the temporary buoyancy in consumer confidence, we need to make our retail areas a destination.

"We need to work with the hospitality and leisure industry so that NI consumers not only want to spend their hard-earned money but their time, too."

And he called for government assistance for the sector, saying: "We need a lead government official on retail and a dedicated NI retail strategy to allow us to make the most of our opportunities and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead."

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: "In contrast with the UK, where footfall declined for the seventh consecutive month, in Northern Ireland footfall rose for the second month in a row, albeit that the sole driver was an uplift in high street footfall of +6.2%.

"The underlying results, however, reveal the pressures facing retailers. In shopping centres, which are dominated by multiples, footfall declined by -13.2% during retail trading hours and by -17.8% during the period between 5pm and 8pm."

The growth in footfall in high streets during June follows a gloomy start to 2018 for retail, with names including Toys R Us and electrical retailer Maplin going into administration.

Others - including House of Fraser, New Look and Marks & Spencer - have embarked on store closures.

Discount retailer Poundworld has fallen into administration - though none of its 12 Northern Ireland stores are affected by wide-ranging store closures.

A spokeswoman said that while stores here have 'closing down sale' posters inside, the sales are to shift stock and do not signal a decision to close.

Belfast Telegraph

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