Shoppers completely abandon high streets

Customers stay away from high streets and shopping centres in April, NIRC data reveals

New data published by the NI Retail Consortium showed footfall in Belfast during January was 10 per cent up on the same month last year. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Retail footfall in Northern Ireland was down by 11.1% in the four weeks to April 27, when exceptionally wet weather appeared to dampen shoppers' appetite for spending

Shoppers completely abandoned high streets and shopping centres in the north over Easter and throughout April, new footfall figures show.

Because after a record March, when Northern Ireland outperformed the rest of the UK, the region has suddenly plunged to the bottom of the league table again.

“These roller-coaster figures show just how tough retail is,” according to Neil Johnston, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC).

He was responding to latest figures from NIRC and Sensormatic IQ which showed that overall footfall in the north decreased by 11.1% in the four weeks from March 31 to April 27, which took in the key Easter trading period.

This was significantly worse than the overall UK average decrease of 7.2%, and combined with the previous month, total Northern Ireland footfall decreased by 3.4% year on year.

It was no better in the sub-sectors, with shopping centre footfall down by 9.3% in April following a 5.1% decline in March, while Belfast’s footfall decreased by 10.7% last month after a March dip of 9.4%.

Johnston added: “Last month’s figures for Northern Ireland were among the best in the UK while this time they are among the worst, which just goes to prove how tough it is to be in retail in this neck of the woods.

“Taking the two months together, given the early Easter this year, shows that across the UK footfall is down 4.2% and Northern Ireland is down 3.4%. Wales is down 4.4% and Scotland is down 2.2%.

“Overall, the common feature is a continuing decline in shoppers and while much of that is a national or even global phenomenon it reinforces the need for government - both at Westminster and at Stormont - to be conscious of the need not to add to the costs and burdens facing retailers.”

He added: “We were glad to see the Executive agree a budget and hope that we have a period of political stability that will in turn feed through into consumer confidence.

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

“Hopefully the Executive will also come forward soon with a Programme for Government which recognises that retailing is an important part of the Northern Ireland economy. We look forward to working with ministers to revive and regenerate our retailing centres.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, said: “After an early Easter fuelled improved footfall performance in March, there is little doubt lack lustre levels of store visits in April will have come as a blow for many retailers.

“Whilst a drop in traffic may have been expected due to Easter falling early and the May bank holiday falling late, this will have been of little consolation. An exceptionally wet April also seems to have dampened many shoppers’ appetite for spending, especially in outlet and outdoor focused retailers.

“But with financial pressures starting to ease for some, and indications of growing consumer confidence being reported, we will have to look forward to May to see if that filters through to improved in-store shopping.”