'Golden quarter' ushered in with slight increase in shopper numbers

There was a slight improvement in shopper footfall numbers in Northern Ireland last month as retailers shape up for the crucial festive period
Gary McDonald Business Editor

LAST month saw a slender but nonetheless welcome improvement in shopper footfall in Northern Ireland to usher in the critical ‘golden quarter' of festive trading.

Figures from the NI Retail Consortium and Sensormatic IQ show that overall footfall in the period from October 2-29 was 0.3 percentage points better than September.

And in Belfast, the fall was 10.1 percentage points better than the previous month, though shopping centres still took a big hit.

Based on this time last year, total Northern Ireland footfall decreased by 3.1 per cent, and was down 5.8 per cent in shopping centres and 1.9 per cent in Belfast.

“This is welcome, even though the improvement wasn't uniform across all retail destinations, and overall visits to stores remain an eighth down on pre-pandemic levels,” according to David Lonsdale, spokesman for the NI Retail Consortium.

“Overall numbers were better, though shopping centres struggled and missed out on the lift in foot-traffic that Belfast witnessed from early signs of festive purchasing.

“The trick as ever for local retailers is converting this modest uptick into actual sales at the tills and sustaining the improvement against a backdrop in which concerns over the cost of living show little sign of abating.”

He added: “Retailers are striving to play their part by keeping down shop prices.

“But the fundamental issues affecting consumer confidence remain, and it's to be hoped there will soon be progress in restoring a devolved administration which can act to support households and retailers through the costs crunch.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at Sensormatic Solutions, said: “While Halloween sales may have given some respite to the high street, shoppers spooked by the rising cost-of-living meant that the reality of growing consumer caution played out in October's UK footfall figures, though Northern Ireland managed to buck this trend.

“As consumers and retailers both adapt to what's being coined the 'new abnormal', in which economic and political uncertainty creates new – and increasingly frequent – curve-balls, retailers will be hoping to minimise disruption to safeguard their Christmas performance.

“And with planned postal strikes in November risking disruption to Black Friday deliveries, retailers will be encouraging shoppers to head in store rather than risking delayed deliveries when shopping online for Black Friday deals.”