NORTHERN Ireland continues to lead the UK footfall fightback for the fourth month in a row, with shop visits being almost 8 percentage points higher than the UK average.
But consumers are feeling the pinch of spiralling costs on everything from food to fuel, and the numbers of people perusing high streets and shopping centres is way down on the same time in January two years ago (which is used as a comparator).
NI Retail Consortium-Sensormatic IQ data covering the four weeks from January 2-29 show that Northern Ireland footfall decreased by 9.5 per cent in January (Yo2Y), a 1.3 percentage point improvement on December.
This is above the UK average decline of 17.1 per cent as Northern Ireland saw the shallowest decline in footfall of all UK regions.
Shopping centre footfall declined by 27.7 per cent in January in Northern Ireland, well below the decline of 19.3 per cent in December, while footfall in Belfast decreased by 6.3 per cent - some 5.7 percentage points worse than December.
NI Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly said: “The footfall bounce back has slowed especially in shopping centres which have a had a particularly challenging January, and while Belfast still outstripped Cardiff or Glasgow, the gap between the cities has closed significantly.
“Last month we predicted that this could happen given the end of the successful of the high street card scheme, but there is more at play here than the end of this scheme.”
He added: “Consumers are feeling the pinch of rising energy costs, which also fed into the highest BRC Shop Price Inflation since December 2012.
“January saw shop price inflation nearly double, driven by a sharp rise in non-food inflation where increased prices were due to rising oil costs which made shipping more expensive. Food prices have continued to rise, especially domestic produce which have been impacted by poor harvests, labour shortages, and rising global food prices.”
Mr Connolly said he rise in shop prices is playing into wider UK inflation, which is pushing cost of living to the forefront of the political agenda.
“Many households will find it difficult to absorb the additional costs, as well as others on the horizon.
“Retailers are working hard to cut costs, but it would be impossible to protect consumers from any future rises. As commodity prices, energy prices and transportation costs continue to rise, it is inevitable that retail prices will continue to follow in the future with a possible knock-on effect on footfall.”
Andy Sumpter, a retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, added: “While total retail shopper traffic in Northern Ireland improved marginally on December’s figures, footfall’s recovery remains somewhat plateaued.
“January became the second successive month in which UK shopper counts struggled to reach the highest recovery levels seen back in November, but Northern Ireland’s footfall recovery performed the most strongly when compared to the rest of the UK nations.”