Business

High streets hurting as Northern Ireland again at bottom of UK footfall league

June was another disappointing month for the high streets in Northern Ireland as shoppers stayed at home
Gary McDonald Business Editor

HIGH streets in Northern Ireland bore the brunt of consumers railing back on their shopping trips in June as footfall slumped by nearly seven per cent on the previous month.

Taking in all aspects of shopping - it includes retail parks and centres as well as high streets - the numbers out spending were down by 5.2 per cent overall last month, ensuring the north continues to languish at the bottom of the UK's footfall league table.

Indeed shoppers turned away from UK high streets in droves last month as footfall plummeted to its worst June figures for seven years.

“It's extremely disappointing that we are again at the bottom of the footfall table - and by some margin,” according to Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium.

“Our high streets and retail parks really felt the hit last month. Continued falls like this are just not tenable for our industry. Retailers have been working hard to encourage shoppers to spend their time and money in retail centres but we need support to do that.”

He added: “Retail in Northern Ireland is likely to contract, as it has begun to do across the UK. The high streets of tomorrow are going to look very different from today and we need local councils and an Assembly to take bold decisions on supporting retail, hospitality and leisure.

“We need to make our town and city centres destinations and places to live, work and relax. There is seismic change happening in our high streets and in the retail industry led by policy costs and consumer behaviour.

“If we have support to adapt and work in tandem with other industries we will see successful retail reinvention. The alternative, without partnership and support, is retail Armageddon.”

The June figures compare with the same month a year ago when the World Cup and glorious weather set the bar high, though the scale of the decline is still stark.

But Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at analyst Springboard, which gathers the monthly data, did offer a crumb of comfort for Northern Ireland.

She said: “The drop in the region's footfall of 1.5 per cent for the year to date is below the drop over the same period last year.

“Given the exceptional and ongoing disruptive political and economic period we are facing coupled with unprecedented structural changes in the retail sector, we might actually expect consumer activity to have taken an even greater hit.

“So in context, the footfall performance has shown more resilience over the year to date than expected."

She said the continuing and growing demand from consumers for a "retail experience" meant that in regional cities across the UK - which by virtue of the sheer breadth and depth of their offer means they can deliver that - footfall was far more resilient, declining only very marginally by 0.6 per cent.

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