'Growing concern' as retail footfall continues on downward spiral

Northern Ireland experienced the largest decline in footfall out of all UK regions in October
Gareth McKeown

FOOTFALL in the north has continued on a downward spiral, with a further 6.5 per cent slump recorded last month.

The latest Springboard figures show that Northern Ireland experienced the largest decline in footfall out of all UK regions in October. The 6.5 per cent fall is significantly higher than the 4.3 per cent reduction in September and both the three month (4.3 per cent) and 12 month negative averages (1.3 per cent).

A decline was witnessed across the sector, with high street and retail reporting a 6.5 per cent drop in footfall and shopping centres a 6.6 per cent downturn.

Coupled with the negative footfall statistics the vacancy rate in Northern Ireland shot up well above the national average (9.3 per cent), surpassing 15 per cent (15.2 per cent) for the first time in 15 months.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, Aodhán Connolly said the latest figures were a "growing concern".

“This a somewhat dreary set of results," he said.

"Footfall shrivelled across all three shopping destination types – high streets, shopping centres and retail parks – and at a pace faster than witnessed over the past quarter as a whole. The rise in shop vacancies is a cause of growing concern, with Northern Ireland’s vacancy rate sitting above the UK average.

“With the clock ticking down towards the Chancellor’s budget, retailers will be looking for convincing action to lift consumer spirits at a time when higher inflation and costs are eroding household spending power. The industry will also be looking for concrete action to stem the relentless rise in government-inspired cost pressures affecting firms.”

Marketing and insights director at Springboard, Diane Wehrle said October delivered a "black trading cloud" for Northern Ireland ahead of the Christmas sales storm.

"Not only was the 6.5 per cent drop in high street footfall the worst result since October last year, but the 6.6 per cent drop in shopping centre footfall was the most severe drop since November 2015.

"The signs of the gathering cloud have been evident in Northern Ireland’s footfall trends for a while; with the drop in high street footfall in October resulting in the longest period of continual decline since February 2014. And drops in footfall during retail trading hours of 7 per cent in high streets and 6.8 per cent in shopping centres provide definitive evidence that both are clearly under pressure from consumers tightening their purse strings."

"It is unsurprising therefore that the vacancy rate in Northern Ireland has risen once again, and at 15.2 per cent it has now returned to the level it was in July last year. This contrasts sharply with the rate of 9.3% across the UK which dropped from 9.6% last quarter," she added.

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