Business

Where have all the shoppers gone?

Shoppers deserted Northern Ireland's high streets, shopping centres and retail parks in August according to a new report
Gary McDonald Business Editor

WHERE have all the shoppers gone?

The north's high streets, shopping centres and retail parks all recorded a drop-off in numbers in August for the third month running, the latest Springboard retail footfall report shows.

And it has prompted another call from exasperated retailers to get the Stormont Executive restored so that "bold decisions" can be made on issues like rates.

Overall footfall in Northern Ireland dipped 2.3 per cent in Northern Ireland in August, twice the rate of decline in Britain (1.2 per cent).

At the same time, online sales values lifted by 11 per cent (the greatest rise this year), with the increase in transactions via mobile devices of 27.6 per cent higher than in any month since October last year.

The plummet of traditional shopping numbers has been described by Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly as "another underwhelming performance".

He said: "We're rock bottom of the UK league table. And most disappointing is that Northern Ireland has now seen a full quarter of footfall decline across all three areas measured - high streets, retail parks and shopping centres - and at a faster rate of decline than over the past year as a whole."

Mr Connolly said: “Tempting shoppers back is crucial, not least to reducing the already high number of vacant premises, and retailers and shopping destinations will be working even harder to attract custom through improving service, ranges, pricing and promotions.

"But what we also need is renewed consumer confidence and greater certainty which would flow from the restoration of political leadership and devolved government.

"As the only part of the UK that has a land border with the EU, we also need Westminster to secure a fair Brexit for consumers in Northern Ireland by ensuring that ordinary shoppers aren't hit with the cost of unwanted new tariffs.

“It's imperative our devolved Executive gets back up and running and deals with the growing list of issues in their in-tray. We need bold decisions taken on the future of the outdated, costly and inequitable business rates system, as it simply isn't tenable for retailers to form an eighth of the economy yet be forced to stump up over a fifth of business rates.

"Retailers in Northern Ireland have also been paying into the Apprenticeship Levy for six months without clarity over how it will be spent or how they can access the monies which they pay in.

"We need certainty on a number of business-facing policies in order to allow our industry to invest and provide great value to shoppers. Quite simply, we need our Executive back to work.”

Diane Wehrle from Springboard said: "Last month's prediction of increasingly constrained consumer activity seems to being borne out with footfall dropping in Northern Ireland for the third consecutive month, though caution needs to be exerted in using this to predict a trend as footfall here is notoriously volatile.

"At least part of the reason for more subdued footfall was a rise in online activity, in terms of both value and volume. Online sales values rose by 11 per cent, the greatest rise this year and significantly up on the 6.2 per cent last August and the 8.3 per cent in July.

"The uplift in online sales volumes of 8.7 per cent was a third higher than the 5.5 per cent in July.

"In part the rise in online activity will have been a result of much cooler, rainy weather this August than in 2016, which undoubtedly discouraged some shopping trips."

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