Beer and barbie boost for north's high streets

The spell of hot weather has led to a rush on items like barbecues, offering a boost to the Northern Ireland high street
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE high street in Northern Ireland has basked in its biggest boost in four years as consumers buy while the sun shines.

Burgers, beer, barbecues and beachwear were among items stripped off the shelves in the five-week period from May 27 to June 30, according to figures from Springboard and the NI Retail Consortium (NIRC).

They reveal that overall footfall grew by 3.6 per cent in Northern Ireland last month, the fastest growth since December 2016 (4.6 per cent) and the fastest growing UK region. This is above the three-month average of minus-0.7 per cent and the 12-month average of minus-2.2 per cent.

Footfall grew on the high street (6.2 per cent), the highest rate since June 2014 (11.8 per cent) and retail parks (6.2 per cent) the highest rate in this location since December 2016 (9.6 per cent), while it fell 4.4 per cent in shopping centres.

NIRC director Aodhán Connolly said: "These figures are a small tonic for retailers as Northern Ireland finished head and shoulders above the other countries and regions of the UK.

“It is particularly encouraging to see the high street having its best footfall result in four years. Usually we would be somewhat cautious about highlighting the impact of the weather being a factor in our footfall but local consumers are literally buying as the sun shines.

“But just as one swallow doesn't make a summer, one set of good results is not a portent to retail revival.

"If we are to capitalise on the temporary buoyancy in consumer confidence and spend, as well as continued price deflation, we need to make our retail areas a destination."

He added: "We need to work with the hospitality and leisure industry so that Northern Ireland consumers not only want to spend their hard earned money but their time.

“We also need a lead government official on retail and a dedicated regional retail strategy to allow us to make the most of our opportunities and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: “In contrast to Britain, where footfall declined for the seventh consecutive month, Northern Ireland footfall rose for the second month in a row, albeit that the sole driver was an uplift in high street footfall.

"The underlying results, however, reveal the pressures facing retailers. In shopping centres, which are dominated by multiples, footfall declined by 13.2 per cent during retail trading hours and by -17.8 per cent during the period between 5pm and 8pm.

“The shift to leisure-based trips, initially evidenced by uplifts in footfall post-5pm, clearly now also supports footfall during the day time trading period.

"Many high streets have capitalised on this trend more swiftly than shopping centres, demonstrated by a rise of 5.2 per cent in day time footfall in Northern Ireland's high streets and 7.7 per cent between 5pm and 8pm.

"Clearly many shopping centres need to transform quickly to be able to capitalise once again on their inherent assets of cohesive management and strength of offer.”

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