Retail chief lauds 'encouraging month' of footfall

Shopper numbers in Belfast increased by 12.7 per cent in February compared with a year earlier
Shopper numbers in Belfast increased by 12.7 per cent in February compared with a year earlier Shopper numbers in Belfast increased by 12.7 per cent in February compared with a year earlier

FEBRUARY was "another encouraging month" for shoppers getting out and about across the north as footfall figures were ahead of the UK average.

And measured against 10 other major cities, Belfast ranked fourth - well ahead of the likes of Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham.

Latest data from the NI Retail Consortium and Sensormatic IQ shows that overall Northern Ireland footfall increased by 12.7 per cent in February compared to a year earlier and was 3.6 percentage points better than January.

In the UK, the monthly increase was 10.4 per cent - and Northern Ireland fared better than every single English region except London.

Shopping centres in the north fares particularly well, with footfall up 16.4 per cent year-on-year in February while numbers in Belfast city's high streets increased by 12.7 per cent.

But compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels, total footfall in the north was 10.5 per cent lower while Belfast city was down 11.7 per cent and shopping centres down 7 per cent.

“These figures represent an encouraging month and follow on from a positive start to the year in January,” according to NI Retail Consortium spokesman Neil Johnston.

“The overall Northern Ireland footfall figures are ahead of the UK average while Belfast is well up the rankings of UK cities.

“Given a background of challenging times for consumers an increase of nearly 13 per cent compared to last year is quite substantial, and all of this has occurred against a backdrop of bad news on mortgages, energy prices and prices in general. Moreover, we had continued political dead lock and a number of public sector strikes.”

He added: “Increased domestic rates bills are due to land in April, inflation continues to be high and there is no sign of agreement on public sector pay – all of which presents a gloomy picture going forward.

“But the Windsor Framework will definitely assist retailers in their efforts to continue to provide choice and value to consumers and the Secretary of State’s decision to freeze regional business rates for the coming year is also very welcome.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at Sensormatic Solutions, added: “Facing multi-directional headwinds – from the long shadow cast by Covid to the ongoing consumer caution caused by the rising cost-of-living – we are, at least, starting to see footfall normalising.

“While the fluctuations in footfall are now less volatile, creating a new baseline against which to benchmark high street performance, it doesn’t mean the footfall recovery has yet fully turned a corner.

“Retailers are still grappling with underlying uncertainty as they try to keep pace in the context of these multifaceted challenges.

“Looking ahead, delivering value – whether that’s through ranging or by giving shoppers compelling reasons to visit stores – will remain central to turning the tide on footfall performance.”