Shopper numbers 'fall like a stone' as retail 'caught in pincer movement between lockdowns'

<span style="font-family: Arial, sans-serif; ">Shopper numbers across the north halved in December, according to new data. Picture by Hugh Russell.</span>
Shopper numbers across the north halved in December, according to new data. Picture by Hugh Russell.

SHOPPER footfall in Northern Ireland almost halved December in comparison with the previous year, according to an industry body.

The British Retail Consortium's ShopperTrak data shows visitors to shops in cities, towns and villages plunged by 47.2 per cent last month.

That represented a 22.2 percentage decrease from November as footfall declined rapidly in the run-up to Christmas as coronavirus restrictions took their toll.

NI Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly said: “Shopper footfall fell like a stone last month, plummeting by almost a half compared to the same period the year before.

“Caught in a pincer movement between lockdowns at the start of the month, this was a terrible way to end the year for the retail industry.

“It rounded off an incredibly tough festive trading period and a truly dismal 2020 for much of our retail industry, particularly those in more discretionary categories, many of whom had been forcibly shuttered for many months this year.”

He added: “This is an unnerving start to the year for many retailers. Even when stores are eventually permitted to re-emerge from this enforced hibernation, it is likely many will continue to suffer from lower shopper footfall.

“And whilst a return to trading is crucial, it will not be a panacea for the sector. That’s why we hope to see a recovery plan from government to get retail moving once again, including early visibility over continued business rates relief for the coming financial year, and a new time frame for the high street voucher scheme.”

Andy Sumpter, a retail consultant at ShopperTrak, added: “Not even the advent of festive season could turn around the fortunes of the high street in December, and as infection rates soared, it was really was a case of ‘the strain that stole Christmas’.

“December had started promisingly, with shopper counts recovering, boosted by shoppers’ get-ahead gift buying. But that soon fell away as consumers faced the prospect of tougher restrictions.”