Belfast Telegraph

Consumer tastes are constantly changing

Bargain hunters are set to spend £25m in Northern Ireland's sales today
Bargain hunters are set to spend £25m in Northern Ireland's sales today

Editor's Viewpoint

With bargain hunters set to spend £25m in Northern Ireland's sales today it could be argued that the retail sector is in rude health. But that is to ignore the fact that if you cannot sell goods, often at substantially discounted prices, at this time of year then you will never sell them.

Retailing as shown in other parts of the UK, even among some of the giant chains such as Debenhams and online firm Asos, is facing challenging times, partly because of uncertainty over the consequences of Brexit and partly because of changing consumer habits.

Christmas is always a time of frenzied shopping but consumers have become more discerning over value and even the increased footfall and spending in Belfast city centre in the last month is not necessarily a portent of things to come after the festive season.

If you really want to see how consumer tastes literally are changing then just look at the phenomenal growth of coffee shops in Belfast city centre. There are now around 100 such outlets in that general location, an increase of one third in only two years.

It can be argued that Northern Ireland has come late to the cappuccino culture, but it has embraced with gusto the idea of dropping in for a cup of coffee at any time of the day.

What is remarkable is the number of local independently owned coffee shops on the high street and surrounding areas. They are more than holding their own and show that the entrepreneurial spirit is far from dead in the province. There are still people who can identify changing trends and are willing to take the risks to cash in.

Another example of changing trends is the growth in Airbnb bookings. This online accommodation booking service is beloved of younger, cash poor travellers who want to make their budgets stretch to the limit. By taking a room in people's homes they are getting an authentic experience of life in the province which they would not necessarily gain if booking a hotel room.

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It is a subtle addition to the tourism market and with 230,000 guests using the service in the 12 months to June it shows that Northern Ireland is a desirable destination for all types of tourists which can only be a good thing for the local economy.

Retailing in its many shapes requires a combination of selling what people want, recognising new trends and offering value for money. Sounds easy to do but the number of closures proves it is not.

Old-fashioned message of Queen still rings true now

The Queen is ever careful to remain politically neutral and while some interpret her speech yesterday as an appeal for a nation divided over Brexit to respect different opinions it was at best an oblique reference without the B word ever being uttered.

Cynics might argue that she should have made a more impassioned appeal for unity at a time of crisis in the UK, but embroiling her in a political argument would be totally counter-productive. Instead she emphasised how faith, family and friendship have sustained her during her long reign and how those virtues are still relevant to all our lives. On old-fashioned message but nevertheless true.

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