No love for retail as February footfall falters

Busy street filled with commuters and shoppers Footfall numbers were down again across Northern Ireland in February, new data shows (Lawrey/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Consumers continued to stay away from the shops and high streets across Northern Ireland during February, heaping more woe on retailers after what had been a benign Christmas period.

Footfall figures covering the four weeks up to February 24 showed shopper numbers fell again across the piece, and in most cases trail other regions of the UK.

And the NI Retail Consortium-Sensormatic IQ data reveals that even Valentine’s Day, which normally provides a frisson of footfall, failed to woo shoppers into stores to the extent it normally does.

“Foot-traffic has been poor for some time, and clearly February footfall is still faltering,” according to Neil Johnston, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC).

“Year on year the numbers of shoppers are down by 6.2% across the UK, but it’s worse in Northern Ireland, where the number is down by 7.1%.

“Belfast was down by 3.1% on last February, but compared to the previous month there was a marked improvement. Shopping centre footfall was unchanged.”

He added: “Retailers will hope that the return of an Executive will lead to the rapid resolution of all outstanding public sector disputes and the end of industrial action - especially on public transport.

“This should provide a more positive economic background for consumers which, when combined with continuing falls in the inflation rate, will hopefully encourage people back to the shops.

“Competition among retailers, even though many are operating on small margins, is helping to curb inflation and in turn help Northern Ireland’s consumers weather the continuing cost of living situation.”

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

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at Sensormatic Solutions, which collects the data on behalf of NIRC, said: “February saw a collision course of disruptive forces negatively impacting store traffic, meaning UK store visits dipped to their lowest ebb since the pandemic.

“Prior to any energy price cap reduction, and with squeezed spending budgets, the confirmation of the UK’s ‘technical recession’ in 2023 appears to have weakened consumer confidence.

“The wettest February on record probably didn’t help either.”

He added: “With the Bank of England signalling the UK’s economy may already be recovering from what it describes as a mild recession, retailers will be hoping signs of an upturn will translate into store traffic and spend, with many looking towards the prospect of an early Easter in March to bring about a change of fortunes.”