Shoppers from North and South rushed to make the most of seasonal bargains in Northern Ireland in the run-up to Christmas, propelling retail growth to the highest level in the UK last month, latest industry figures show.
While the number of people shopping on high streets across the UK generally fell in December by 2.1 per cent, Northern Ireland's high street shopper footfall jumped 4.1 per cent.
Belfast, boosted by the opening of a new Primark store in early December, enjoyed one of its busiest Christmas trading periods in years, according to the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC)/Springboard report.
Aodhán Connolly, director of the NIRC, said: “This news is a great boost for retailers to start 2019 with a full quarter of growth, a rise in footfall in seven of the past 12 months, and we are the only part of the UK to see growth in December.
“These are strong results to end 2018, but for us to have a successful 2019 we need mission-critical decisions to be made on issues such as business rates and the apprenticeship levy. We are falling behind the rest of the UK because we have no Assembly or Executive, which is making Northern Ireland less competitive now and for future investment.”
Although the North saw strong growth on its high streets in the five weeks to December 29th, shopper footfall fell in shopping centres by 3.7 per cent. That mirrored a decline in shopping centre footfall figures throughout the UK.
Diane Wehrle, from the retail insights company Springboard, said the magnitude of decline in shopping centre footfall was unexpected, and highlighted a change in historic shopping habits.
“If nothing else is learned from December 2018, it is that discounting is severely eroding the strength of Christmas as a major trading period. This is undeniably strong evidence that retailers can no longer rely on Christmas trading to redeem revenue lost earlier in the year.”