Footfall bounceback has begun - but much work to be done

The recovery in shopper footfall gathered momentum in May in the first full month that shops were able to open since Northern Ireland's most recent lockdown was lifted on April 30
Gary McDonald Business Editor

WHILE footfall is still a long way off its pre-pandemic levels, there has been a consistent improvement each passing month as society unlocks and shoppers revert to bricks-and-mortar stores, new industry figures show.

But retail chief Aodhán Connolly believes policy-makers need to think more creatively about how they might reignite consumer confidence and ensure a vibrancy can return to town and city centres in the north.

Fresh data from Sensormatic IQ and the NI Retail Consortium, covering the four weeks from May 2-29, shows at overall footfall in Northern Ireland fell by 14.9 per cent against May 2019 (the analysis is based on two years comparisons) but was up 40.5 per cent from April.

This is above the UK average decline of 27.7 per cent, and Northern Ireland also saw the shallowest decline in footfall of all UK regions.

Shopping centre footfall in the north declined by 4.2 per cent in May (Yo2Y) while footfall in Belfast fell by 20.3 per cent but was a 35 per cent improvement on April.

NIRC director Aodhán Connolly said: “The recovery in shopper footfall gathered momentum in the first full month that shops were able to open since our lockdown was lifted on April 30, with a surge as shoppers returned to our high streets, shopping centres and other retail destinations in May.

“But this will not be a V-shaped recovery. Visits to retail destinations still languished almost 15 per cent lower than during the comparable period two years ago.

“We are still missing our cohort of workers in our towns and cities who are still working from home and others have yet to venture to our retail destinations.”

He added: “This slow pace of recovery is particularly felt by those fast-food retailers and self-service cafes who simply don’t have the capacity or the business model to deliver the table-only service that has been mandated by the Executive in a move the prevents them from opening fully and competing with others that can.

“This draconian measure needs lifted immediately as our member have gone above and beyond to provide Covid-safe spaces for customers and colleagues alike.”

Mr Connolly said that without a rebound in footfall and increased demand, many retailers will struggle to make ends meet, placing a question mark over the viability of stores and jobs and the vitality of our retail destinations.

“Retailers are playing their part in trying to tempt shoppers, but policy makers need to think more creatively too about how they might reignite consumer confidence and entice people back into our retail destinations,” he said.

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions warned that the prospect of a sustained recovery is still very much hanging in the balance, with variants of concern and an uptick in infection rates threatening to undermine consumer confidence.

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