Far fewer people on the high street and in shopping centres says report

Footfall numbers in Northern Ireland were down in March for the third month running
Gary McDonald Business Editor

FAR fewer people are frequenting the high street and shopping centres in the north in the lead-up to Easter in what is being seen as another hammer blow for the retail sector.

And the lack of a functioning Executive has prompted fury from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC).

New data from analysts Springboard revealed that footfall in Northern Ireland fell by 3.7 per cent year-on-year in March, the third consecutive month of decline, albeit a shallower drop than last month's fall of 4.1 per cent.

It is also below the three-month average of minus-2.7 per cent and the 12-month average of minus-0.9 per cent.

NIRC director Aodhán Connolly said: “This latest fall really does reflect that 2017 has been a tough year so far for retail.

"And this third consecutive month of decline - which has been across the board in high streets, retail parks and shopping centres - shows that the political and economic instability here can only have a detrimental effect on consumer confidence and spend.

"However, given retailers' resilience, they have responded to the challenges head-on and remain focussed on continuing to deliver great choice and value to their customers."

Mr Connolly added: “This same focus is what we would like to see from our politicians in the next few weeks as the window for an agreement closes. We can be unequivocal in saying our industry believes that devolved government for Northern Ireland is worth having and has delivered results.

"We need it back up and running as soon as possible not only for our industry and others, but for the Northern Ireland consumer who already has half of the discretionary spend of our GB neighbours.

"Our members already support the Government in areas as diverse as employment, health and the economy. But we need to have an Executive working for a common purpose - that of making Northern Ireland a better place to do business, to invest and to live.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: “The volatility of footfall in Northern Ireland continued to be evident in March, with drops in both high street and shopping centre footfall of 3.6 per cent and 3.9 per cent respectively.

"March was the second consecutive month with a decline in Northern Ireland's high street footfall, and the third for its shopping centres, but given the historic trend for swings in footfall from positive to negative and back again, it is too early to state categorically that its retail destinations are under strain.

“However, the results for Northern Ireland do contrast sharply with increases in high street and shopping centre footfall across the UK, which rose against thanks mainly to a 1.3 per cent increase in people out during the post 5pm period. Footfall actually dropped during the normal trading hours of 9am to 5pm."

She added: "Consumer confidence and inflation have worsened from last year, which is likely to be constraining shoppers' willingness to spend on retail goods. This all lends further evidence to the fact that retail is no longer the sole driver of footfall, with a strong leisure/hospitality offer being a critical element to secure retail success.”

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