Business

Retailers in call for action as footfall slumps again

QUIET STREETS: Footfall was down again in Belfast and across the north in March, new data shows. Picture: Hugh Russell
Gary McDonald Business Editor

ANOTHER set of dismal footfall figures for Belfast and generally across the north has prompted a plea for action from retailers, who say there is “a pressing need to bring energy and vision to the revival of our retail and high street destinations”.

Latest data from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and Sensormatic IQ confirm that overall footfall decreased by 14.5 per cent in March (this compares with the same month in 2019, pre the onset of Covid).

Shopping centre throughput declined by 19.7 per cent last month, though that was a slight improvement on the decline of 23.6 per cent in February.

And footfall in Belfast was down 18.9 per cent, which was 5.2 percentage points better than February.

David Lonsdale, head of devolved nations at the British Retail Consortium and who is NI Retail Consortium spokesman, said: “There was a modest uptick in shopper footfall in Northern Ireland last month as people gradually returned to retail destinations.

“But the fact is footfall continues to languish well down on pre-pandemic levels. Visits to shopping centres and Belfast city centre improved a touch, however the overall results for Northern Ireland were disappointing despite March being the first full trading month since the loosening of stultifying Covid related restrictions in stores.”

He added: “Shops themselves are continuing to provide a welcoming and safe shopping experience with a wide range of products, admittedly against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and concerns over the cost of living.

“Northern Ireland's shops and the thousands of jobs they provide will only survive with the patronage of the public, and questions remain over what demand will look like in the months ahead.

“As such, these figures should lead to an early response from policy makers as to the health of our retail destinations.

“So there is a pressing need to bring energy and vision to the revival of our retail and high street destinations, as well as a longer-term plan to permanently lower the business rate and adopt a more coherent strategy for the retail industry as Scotland has published.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, said: “As we surpass two years since the first Covid-19 lockdown, we might begin to see where retail footfall trends will settle down as retail resets.

“While Covid restrictions maybe loosening, belts may start to tighten as the impact of the cost-of-living squeeze and price inflation accelerates, and the knock-on effect of energy rises and increased national insurance contributions this month remain unknown as they look ahead into April and beyond.”

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