Consumers out in force as footfall finally rises

Early Easter, school holidays and Mother’s Day helped to drive up shopper traffic numbers in March says NIRC

footfall figures
Shopper numbers in Northern Ireland showed a big increase in March, helped by the early Easter, according to NIRC (CentralITAlliance/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

An early Easter, the school holidays, and also Mother’s Day, helped to drive up shopper traffic numbers in Northern Ireland during March, new data shows.

Latest monthly figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) and Sensormatic IQ reveal that overall retail footfall in the north from February 25 to March 30 was up 4% on the same period in 2023, and significantly better than the UK, which endured a decrease of 1.3%.

It was better still for Belfast, where numbers soared by 9.4% after a 3.1% decline in February and footfall numbers in shopping centres rose by 5.1% in March after being flat the month before.

“These are very welcome figures, and it’s great that Northern Ireland led the pack and is one of only five UK regions to see growth in shopper numbers,” according to NIRC director Neil Johnston.

“The numbers show that consumers really did hit the shops in markedly greater numbers.

NI Retail Consortium director, Neil Johnston.
NI Retail Consortium director, Neil Johnston.

“But it’s the case that we’ve had a run of disappointing months followed by the return of the Executive and end of the prospective of continuing public-sector strikes.

“The ending of the series of strikes affecting the trains and buses undoubtedly helped in Belfast where footfall leaped up by 9.8%.”

He added: “The figures are almost testament to the highly competitive retail environment which combined with national insurance cuts putting money in people’s pockets and inflation continuing to fall have all encouraged shoppers out to have a look around the shops.

“The retail environment, however, continues to be very challenging and we will have to wait and see how the rest of the year unfolds.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, said: “An early, high-performing Easter helped put a spring in shoppers’ steps and this, combined with a boost from Mother’s Day and ambient store visits from school holidays, drove up shopper traffic numbers in March.

“This meant we saw footfall returning a positive improvement on last year’s figures for the first time since July 2023.

“While retailers will have welcomed the seasonal uplift in store visits last month, the choppy nature of footfall recovery we’ve seen over the past few months indicates that consumer confidence is yet to fully turn a corner, meaning we may see a bumpy recovery in shopper traffic in the months ahead.”