Cost-of-living crisis already taking a toll on shopper numbers

The cost of living crisis is having an impact on shopper footfall, according to latest data. Picture: Hugh Russell
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE spiralling cost of living is already having a debilitating impact on the north's retail sector as shoppers aren't coming out in such huge numbers, a new survey is showing.

Footfall in high streets and shopping centres had held up well across Northern Ireland over the last four months, helped in no small measure by the additional spending capacity presented by the High Street Scheme.

It brought 1.4 million people into retail markets, where they made more than 3.7 million transactions and injected close to £137 million into the economy.

But those spend-cards have now expired, and with consumer confidence levels diminishing, figures from the NI Retail Consortium and Sensormatic IQ reveal that footfall in Northern Ireland decreased by 15.5 per cent in the four weeks to February 26.

That's 6 percentage points lower than January and is also worse that the UK average decline of 14.9 per cent

Shopping centre footfall collapsed by 26 per cent in February (Yo2Y), though this was a slight improvement on the 27.7 per cent decline in January.

And in Belfast, shopper numbers decreased by 17.8 per cent - nearly three times worse than the 6.3 per cent decline the month before.

“This was an underwhelming performance after three or four encouraging months and given the rescinding of Covid restrictions in the middle of the month,” NI Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly said.

“However, the dip wasn't uniform across all destinations, as shopping centres saw a modest improvement during the month.”

He added: “Concerns about the cost of living may well have exerted a downward pressure on visits to stores. But these figures do underline the protracted nature of the recovery and the need for continued support from policy makers particularly in the short-term to encourage and entice shoppers back.

“With much of our wider economy ultimately dependent on what happens to consumer spending, it's crucial that the political parties' election manifestos take a coherent approach to supporting the industry and the customers it serves.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, said: “While February's shopper traffic fell back in Northern Ireland, the total footfall across the UK still leads the top five European markets' footfall recovery, suggesting a collective growing confidence among shoppers.

“But shoppers now face new and growing pressures. The cost-of-living squeeze and inflation, which is putting downward pressures on disposable income, and a volatile macroeconomic and geopolitical climate, could create a perfect storm of uncertainty for consumers, which could still impact any long-term retail recovery.”

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