Shoppers desert the high street in November as Black Friday bites

With shopper numbers deserting high streets and shopping centres, retailers in Northern Ireland need a spectacular Christmas to salvage their year
Gary McDonald Business Editor

RETAILERS across the north need a spectacular festive spending frenzy if they are to salvage anything from the wreckage of this last trading year, according to industry figures.

And initiatives like Black Friday, when consumers opt to buy with the click of a mouse rather than hitting the shops, are having a growing negative impact on money in the tills.

Shoppers deserted the high street (down 2.6 per cent), retail parks (also down 2.6 per cent) and shopping centres (down 1.7 per cent) in Northern Ireland for the sixth month in a row, latest statistics from monitoring body Springboard reveal.

The overall 2.4 per cent decline in November was the highest in the UK, and although it was below the three-month average decrease of 4.4 per cent, it eclipsed the 12-month negative rate of 1.7 per cent.

“This was the weakest performance reported by any of the regions across the UK, with the decline in footfall continuing at a faster pace than witnessed over the past year as a whole," said Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.

“Retail destinations in Northern Ireland are having to contend with two major challenges right now," he added.

"The first of these is the growing popularity of digital shopping, which now sees a quarter of all non-food retail sales now being undertaken online.

"And at the same time family finances have come under pressure from higher inflation and only moderate increases in wages.

"So retailers will be pulling out the stops in order to deliver a more creditable performance during the crucial Christmas trading period, with December traditionally accounting for an eighth of annual retail sales.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, added: "Whilst the 2.4 per cent drop in footfall in Northern Ireland in November was a partial recovery from October when footfall fell 6.5 per cent, it was the worst outcome of any geographic area of the UK.

"November was characterised by significant discounting with flash sales of up to 50 per cent off, which culminated in the Black Friday period at the end of the month.

"Whilst Black Friday was largely an online event, it appeared to drive activity into retail destinations in Northern Ireland as over the first three weeks of the month footfall rose by 0.1 per cent, far better than the first three weeks of October when footfall declined by 6.1 per cent.

"However, the online nature of Black Friday came home to roost in the last week, when footfall dropped by a significant 9.4 per cent including a double digit drop footfall over the weekend following Black Friday, clearly indicating that click and collect purchasing did not feature.

"What is also clear is that many trips were leisure rather than spending driven, as Northern Ireland's footfall rose post 5pm by 4.0 per cent but dropped by 3.6 per cent during retail trading hours.

"Indeed, with nothing fundamental shifting in terms of inflation or interest rates over the intervening period since October, it lends further weight to the frequently quoted argument that Black Friday simply shifted the Christmas trading calendar forward.

"And in the light of this, we are anticipating that footfall will be further challenged into December."

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