Shoppers return in May - but it's no real bounce back

Shopper numbers were up in May on Northern Ireland high streets according to Springboard

THERE was retailer respite in Northern Ireland in May as shopper numbers returned to the high street, with overall footfall up half a percentage point over the month - the fastest growth in exactly a year.

It was above the three-month average of minus-2.8 per cent and the 12-month average of minus-2.8 per cent, and Northern Ireland actually performed ahead of most other UK regions.

But according to Diane Wehrle of Springboard, which oversees the monthly monitor, it is "highly premature" to regard the May improvement in Northern Ireland from April's 7.3 per cent drop as any form of bounce back.

“Instead it is in part likely to be a consequence of shopping trips being deferred from April, when the weather continued to be cold and wet.

"It might also be regarded as a reflection of consumer demand resulting from the two May bank holidays which anchored the month at both ends.”

Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said it was particularly satisfying to see that high streets had their best result in over a year following the announcements of some shop closures.

“These closures are more evidence of the ongoing transformation in retail. Increased operating costs, investment in digital platforms and consumer demand for choice, value, convenience and quality shopping experiences mean that the retail industry of the future will look very different to today.

“There may be a short term jump in vacancy rates, but with some of these stores being in prime retail positions, the hope is they will not lie empty for long.

"It must be remembered that this is about retail reinvention, not retail Armageddon. We need to look at destination retailing, to get people to spend their time as well as their money. We need to better connect a strong retail offer with the hospitality and leisure sectors."

He added: “We also need government support to bolster our industry which accounts for an eighth of the economy and employs over 80,000 people. This means equitable reform on rates, a dedicated retail official to work with us to design and deliver a retail strategy for Northern Ireland.”

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