Worst footfall figures in months prompts fears of 'retail armageddon'

Shoppers abandoned Northern Ireland's high streets in May according to Springboard,with footfall declining by 6.1 per cent
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE north's retail sector and high streets are going through a period of 'seismic metamorphic change' an industry leader claims.

And he has reiterated his belief that, unless Stormont ministers are back in situ soon and take the necessary bold decisions needed to make the region a more competitive place to invest, work and shop, then "it could be retail armageddon, not retail reinvention".

Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, was speaking as new figures from monitoring firm Springboard revealed that footfall declined by 5.3 per cent in May, the worst of all the UK's regions and the steepest decline since October 2017.

All destination types found it much tougher to attract customers last month, and the greatest impact was felt by high streets with a drop in footfall of 6.1 per cent (though this can be partly attributed to poorer weather than in May last year). Shopping centres footfall dipped by 2.8 per cent.

Footfall worsened across all parts of the day, but the most significant drop occurred post 5pm, moving from a rise of 6.4 per cent in May 2018 to a decline of 5.6 per cent this year, suggesting dining operators need to provide a more tempting food offer to keep customers around in the evenings.

Mr Connolly said: “This is a significant decline and the worst that we have seen in two years. Particularly worrying is the fall of over six per cent in footfall on our high streets at a time when one in six of our shops are already lying empty.

“The time for encouraging words by government has passed and now we need action. We need these talks to succeed

“The Stormont stalemate is strangling the retail industry. With no minister in place to deliver rates reform, our poundage is the highest across the UK by some margin. Retail is only twelve per cent of the economy but pays a quarter of all business rates.

“We have no minister to bring forward to changes to the apprenticeship levy, which for us is simply a tax because we can't access the funds we pay in. We have no minister to ensure more protection for our shop workers, as is proposed in Great Britain. And we have no minister to bring stakeholders together to deliver a vision of future high streets, which will look very different to the way they are now.

“For us to make sure this is retail reinvention instead of retail armageddon, we need these talks to succeed and to have ministers back at the helm.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: “The 5.3 per cent drop in footfall in Northern Ireland's bricks and mortar destinations in May is a poor result, although comparisons are off the back of a particularly strong result in May last year, boosted by warm weather and special events."

Last week the British Retail Consortium said UK high streets were enduring their steepest decline since the mid 1990s.

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