Belfast Telegraph

Think of the ways you can change your marketplace

Ulster Bank’s accelerator programme held a Christmas market, where Lynsey Cunningham was joined by Richard Donnan
Ulster Bank’s accelerator programme held a Christmas market, where Lynsey Cunningham was joined by Richard Donnan

By Terry Robb, Head of Personal Banking, Ulster Bank

In the run-up to the festive season, Belfast, its retailers and its shoppers have certainly had a challenging time. It's received wisdom that the fact more people are doing things online has been and will be a real threat to our high streets, as people swap bricks for clicks.

But as we see with our banking customers, it's not necessarily that customers do things online for the sake of it - but rather because it fits into their lifestyle better.

And in that idea is the root of how many have competed, and competed well, with these new challenges.

The footfall figures bear this out. Despite a tough year, festive footfall around city shops in Belfast is up by almost 20% on last year, and city centre footfall across the whole of 2018 is up by 5%, with Belfast seeming to buck the broader trend across the UK and Ireland for the high street.

This is really welcome and underlines the resilience of traders in Northern Ireland.

But it's also worth considering the lessons it holds for other businesses - why are people choosing to brave the elements to shop, entertain themselves and eat in our cities and high streets?

After all, no matter how diverse the sector, whether you're a software business like Oroson or helping homebrewers like Geterbrewed, there's always the potential for disruption and others offering a 'more efficient' way of doing things.

Sign In

The answer lies in creating experiences that drive interest and personal engagement.

It's not about simply having the right products or services.

It's about making sure that products are sold not just as having great features - but as making it in some way easier for people to live their lives, or achieve their ambitions.

Nobody wants to just buy clothes, or take out a mortgage for the sake of it - instead they do it because they want to look good, or own their own home.

Apply that principle, and businesses can take their place in the experience economy - which Euromonitor estimates will reach $8.2tn in just 10 years' time.

We know that this is important and we're changing to adapt.

Before Christmas, we hosted a market in our Entrepreneur Accelerator which brought people in to see and sample the work of businesses that have based themselves there.

Having so many great businesses together in the same space helped to create something that was more than the sum of its parts - allowing people to tangibly see and feel our support for entrepreneurship.

Building on the great work of our local traders and businesses, we intend to help people create a lot more experiences in 2019.

Belfast Telegraph