Where have all the shoppers gone?

NI footfall down 4.7% in December as consumers take cover in shopping centres

Shopper footfall on high streets on Boxing Day was up when compared to last year
Figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium suggest consumers are thin on the ground (Jacob King/PA)

Footfall in Northern Ireland was down by 4.7% in December compared with the same key Christmas shopping month in 2022, new figures show.

The data from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) and Sensormatic IQ, covering five weeks from November 26 to December 30, will have left thousands of high street retailers bitterly disappointed.

And it has prompted a call for the government not to push up rates bills in April for retailers in Northern Ireland.

The figures coincide with one of the wettest Decembers on record, combined with dampened consumer confidence and ongoing spending caution.

NIRC director Neil Johnston said: “Overall footfall in Northern Ireland fell by 4.7% compared to December the previous year. This is in line with the rest of the UK and suggests consumers are not hitting the streets in great numbers.

“It follows disappointing figures in October and November too. It has been a tough quarter for retailers perhaps reflecting consumers continuing concerns about inflation and their own financial position.

“Some of the decline in footfall may reflect the impact of online shopping - around a third of non-food retail sales are now purchased online and retailers are increasingly adept at harnessing technology to get through to consumers who may not have the time or inclination to travel to physical shops.

“The figures in shopping centres were a bit more positive with a modest rise in numbers of visitors – perhaps shoppers favoured shopping centres over retail parks and high streets given the dreadful weather we have been experiencing.

“Belfast saw a decline of only a 3.6% decline in footfall – which is much less than many other cities across the UK, but this is not a cause for celebration. It is clear that retailing is going through a difficult time – like many other sectors.”

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

Mr Johnston added: “Now is not the time for government to add to the costs of retailers. In the rest of the UK unfortunately government has decided to push up business rates bills in April. Northern Ireland should not follow suit.

“We hope that, should an Executive be re-established its first decision should be to freeze the regional rate. In the absence of an Executive, we hope the Secretary of State will do as he did last year and freeze the rates – that was a wise call then and would be again.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at Sensormatic Solutions, added: “While we saw festive glimmers of shopper traffic peaks in and around discounting days, such as Boxing Day when footfall improved +39.2% week-on-week, many may have been waiting for a last-minute Christmas trading rush that never came.

“There’s little doubt that the overall downward year-on-year trajectory in store visits in December - usually the crescendo of the Golden Quarter – will have come as a blow. Retailers will be hoping that demand improves as inflation starts to ease and the impact of the inflationary spending squeeze on disposable incomes softens.”