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Festive season make or break time for many of our stores

By Donald McFetridge

This year has been a very mixed one for the retail sector in Northern Ireland, the rest of Ireland, the UK, and, in fact, the rest of the world. Some sectors have had an excellent year; others have not.

During the past year there were a number of casualties, but fewer than in the previous 24 months and at the peak of the recession. Many are still of the opinion, myself included, that, in the coming 12 months, we are very likely to see a major casualty in the supermarket sector in spite of the price-cutting, discounting and promotions.

In the meantime, at the top end of the food marketplace, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose continue to perform well, as do Lidl, Aldi (and Netto via a joint venture arrangement with Sainsbury) at the other end of the spectrum. The mid-market remains a volatile retail environment.

Like the food sector, the fashion sector has also become even more polarised. Mid-market operators are finding it difficult to compete and this is one area of the retail marketplace where we are likely to see casualties when Christmas trading statistics are announced in January.

Christmas is the vital "make or break" trading season and retailers are hopeful this year will be much better than Christmas 2013 - the signs, in many areas, are that this is likely.

However, online remains the real threat to the high street. In November, online sales were up a staggering 37%. It is imperative customers support their local high streets and shopping centres. Those who are furiously shopping online are quick to criticise the poor retail offer in many towns, yet they must accept at least some responsibility.

In 2015, I would like to see local and central government taking a greater, more positive interest in the retail sector. I'd also like to see consumers committing to making our towns and cities better places to shop.

Cutting business rates is helpful for those struggling to keep their shop doors open, but if customers do not get out there and shop, there's really very little point.

Donald McFetridge is a retail expert from the University of Ulster

Belfast Telegraph


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