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Retail sector struggling to deal with tough market conditions

There was further gloom for the retail sector yesterday with the news that Carpetright is to close five stores in Northern Ireland.

As part of a rescue deal to save the business, the firm plans to shut 92 stores and cut 300 jobs across the UK although it is not clear how many staff will be affected in the north where branches in Ballymena, Bangor, Derry, Coleraine and Newtownabbey are set to close by the end of September.

Three remaining outlets in Belfast and Cookstown will continue trading and the company hopes to relocate workers where possible.

This latest development comes as Toys R Us confirmed it would close its doors for the last time on April 24, a sad end for a major name in retail and even sadder for the employees losing their jobs.

Both Toys R Us and Maplin Electronic went into administration at the same time, putting around 200 jobs at risk locally.

There is no doubt that these are extremely tough times for the traditional High Street model which has to sustain high overheads such as rent and rates even when trading is slack.

Greater competition from online retailers is obviously having a significant impact as people change their buying habits, shopping from the comfort of their home rather than venturing into town centres where issues like parking charges can be a deterrent.

In terms of Carpetright, the lack of movement in the housing market and a general squeeze on consumer spending following years of wage constraint, all add up to challenging trading conditions.

Unfortunately, there are likely to be other big name retailers facing some difficult choices as the sector tries to deal with changing circumstances.

So far this year, thousands of jobs have been lost across the UK, representing a devastating blow to every worker affected, many of whom have provided years of loyal service.

It is a chill wind blowing through the High Street which will create uncertainty for other retail staff worried about job security.

The number of empty units in town centres and shopping malls are a depressing reflection of the hard times being experienced in this sector.

Changing trends have also affected Co Armagh-based Linwoods which announced this week it was cutting 90 jobs with the ending of its van sales distribution business.

A dramatic decline in demand for white bread is being blamed although thankfully, the health food side of the business continues to be successful with sales around the world.

However, the loss of so many jobs is a terrible blow to the individuals concerned as well as the local community.

All those facing redundancy across the north need to be given every support in their search for fresh employment.

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