Shopping centres footfall in bounce back - but retailing still in crisis

EMPTY STREETS: Shoppers still aren't returning to town and cities in the north in large numbers, according to the BRC. Photo: Mark Marlow
Gary McDonald Business Editor

FOOTFALL at Northern Ireland shopping centres bounced back faster than any other UK region last month, though shopper numbers remain at a mere fraction of where they were pre-Covid.

Fresh data from the British Retail Consortium shows that shopping centre footfall across the UK declined by 48.1 per cent year on year in July.

But Northern Ireland had the most shallow decline of all regions at just 23.1 per cent.

However, the numbers are still a stark reminder of the grim state of a retail sector in crisis, whether that is shopping centres, high streets or retail parks.

Aodhán Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, put it in perspective when he said: “Yes, it's great news that Northern Ireland shoppers are leading the way in returning to our shopping centres, which is a testament to the hard work of retailers and retail destinations to show the safety of staff and customers is their key priority.

“But figures are still almost a quarter lower than they were last year which is bad news for an industry that relies on footfall to convert to sales.

“Unfortunately over the past few weeks we have seen some households names in retail stumble and tumble, which shows not only how hard the operating environment is for the industry, but the need for continued support from the Westminster government and Stormont Executive.

“Without that support, our high street is going to look substantially different than it does today, so we need a high street recovery plan immediately, as well as the public to support our industry.”

Overall footfall across all shopping destinations decreased by 42.1 per cent in July (the first full month in which shops were allowed to open in all parts of the UK), which was improvement from June’s 62.6 per cent slump.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “While retailers will welcome the improved numbers, they remain well down on pre-coronavirus levels.

“With retail footfall recovering slower than in many other European countries, much will depend how fast consumer demand returns.”

Just this week WH Smith, which has four outlets in Northern Ireland, said it plans to cut up to 1,500 jobs, while fashion chain M&Co, which has stores in Magherafelt and Larne, will close 47 shops and axe 380 jobs.

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