Retail footfall growth comes to abrupt end in March says report

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

A RUN of five successive months of retail footfall growth came to an abrupt end in March as Northern Ireland slumped to the bottom of the UK league table with a 3.6 per cent decline in shopper numbers.

Analysts suggest the region is currently in the midst of a no splurge culture, with consumer confidence continuing to languish and shoppers being clearly focussed on prudence, which is impacting on the number of trips made to bricks and mortar destinations.

And the uncertainty didn't just impact on the high streets last month, but also in retail parks and shopping centres, according to latest figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and Springboard.

Its director Aodhán Connolly said: “That encouraging sequence of continual footfall growth is over and disappointingly we are now bottom of the UK league table.

“But this fall is not wholly unexpected, with both consumer and business confidence taking a knock in the past few months.

“There has been growing uncertainty across Northern Ireland as we approached the March 29 original Brexit deadline and that uncertainty is reflected in the fact that shoppers did not want to spend as much time in our retail destinations.

“We now have a window of six months to prevent this Brexit anxiety from affecting our industry and shoppers again, but rather than breathing easy, our politicians and the EU must make a renewed effort to find a solution that prevents a no-deal hard Brexit."

But Mr Connolly insisted Brexit isn't the only reason for the current malaise.

“We have also seen across-the-board rises in business and domestic rates in Northern Ireland which will affect spending power.

“While Brexit may be out of our hands locally, issues such as business rates are not and we need our politicians back working at Stormont now more than ever. We need political leadership to take the bold decisions to make Northern Ireland a better place to live, work and invest.”

Monitoring body Springboard's marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle said: “What must be taken into account is the very different footfall trend across the month in Northern Ireland compared with the UK.

“In Britain footfall rose strongly in the first week of March in response to a poor result in 2018 due to Beast from East; it rose modestly in the final week of the month compared with a poor Easter week last year but declined in each of the intervening weeks.

“But in Northern Ireland, apart from the first week of March when footfall rose, it then declined in each of the subsequent weeks, bottoming out in the fourth and fifth weeks with drops of 5.1 per cent and 6 per cent.”

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