Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Shoppers bring back the festive buzz to NI

Editor's Viewpoint

Northern Ireland shoppers love a bargain as much as, if not more, than their counterparts anywhere else on these islands.

And this is good news for beleaguered retailers, particularly in Belfast.

A spending splurge today and tomorrow - driven by huge discounts in many big-name stores - is expected to bring some £50m into the tills.

That will certainly make it seem like one of the best festive periods on record in the city. Only a short time ago all the predictions were of gloom and despondency in the wake of the Primark fire.

But innovative attractions - a big wheel, circus, the snow slide near the burnt-out Bank Buildings and the extended Christmas market - kept shoppers coming into the city. Also, the recent opening of a covered walkway at Primark, making all of the city centre more easily accessible, has had an astonishing effect.

Footfall for the week beginning December 10 was up 19% on last year, boosting the number of customers visiting the city for the whole year by 5%.

That is in sharp contrast to other major retail centres in the UK and Ireland where they have been experiencing difficult times. It appears Belfast shoppers are delighted with the return to near-normal trading in the city centre and are showing their appreciation by coming out in force.

Of course online shopping is having an effect on some high street stores, but there is something about Christmas which makes people want to experience the buzz in the city - even if it means elbowing other people out of the way to get the best bargains.

The Primark fire also brought into life a dormant feeling among the citizens to treasure its historic buildings.

Rebuilding a more modern Primark store would have been the easy option but many are glad the original building will be restored as far as possible. It is a city landmark well worth preserving.

Belfast bouncing back from Primark fire as footfall figures soar

But it is unrealistic to think that local retailers can buck the national trend of falling sales and profits indefinitely, as concerns over the effects of Brexit continue to grow.

The dominance of online shopping continues, although as Asos proves, even those companies are not immune from consumer caution.

They may not have the same high level of rates and rents to pay as traditional high street retailers and that is something councils and central government should consider if they want the high street to continue.

Belfast Telegraph

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