Dwindling footfall figures 'underline need to make card scheme work'

Footfall in Belfast city centre continued to dwindle last month. Picture Mark Marlow
Gary McDonald Business Editor

FURTHER plummeting footfall across all retail areas in Northern Ireland has prompted a fresh call to "spend wisely" when the £100 high street vouchers are pushed through letterboxes in the coming days.

Overall footfall dwindled by 16.7 per cent in the five weeks from August 29 to October 2 according to latest NI Retail Consortium-Sensormatic IQ data.

That was just a fraction lower than in August and is above the UK average decline of 16.8 per cent (based on two year comparisons.

Shopping centre footfall declined by 28.9 per cent in September (Yo2Y) while the overall drop for Belfast was 22.2 per cent.

It comes as the city continues to rack up losses in big-name retailers, with those forced out of business since the onset of the pandemic including Debenhams, Evans, DW Sports, TM Lewis, Carphone Warehouse, Mothercare, Oasis and Warehouse.

NIRC director Aodhán Connolly said: “The fact that Northern Ireland footfall is down almost 17 percentage points from the last comparable pre-pandemic period and our shopping centres are down a whopping 29 per cent shows the scale of the challenge facing our retailers.

“Meanwhile retailers have been hit with a cumulative burden of growing costs from stock price increases to fuel and shipping increases.”

He added: “Retail is a high volume, low profit margin industry so even small cost rises can have a significant effect on the bottom line. Retailers have absorbed a lot of these costs over the past few months but that is not a sustainable arrangement and shop price inflation is on the horizon.

“More than ever retailers need the support of the public by spending every single penny of the new high street stimulus spend local card.

“This could be a lifeline for retailers in the lead up to the crucial festive trading period, so go out and grab some well-earned retail therapy while supporting your retail industry and the thousands of local jobs it provides.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at Sensormatic Solutions, said: “While Northern Ireland’s footfall dipped below August levels, the rest of the UK also saw a slight slowdown in September’s footfall recovery.

“However, September still represents one of the highest recovery points since pre-pandemic levels, pointing to a slow but steady upward trajectory.

“Retailers will now be hoping that the £100 high street voucher scheme boosts demand as they head into the critical 'golden quarter' to help them capitalise on Christmas trade – and with our research showing 79 per cent of consumers will start festive shopping between now and the start of December, October and November will be critical months to encourage shoppers back into store.”

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