Northern Ireland facing ‘retail armageddon’, industry body warns

Retailers’ group calls for government support as North falls to bottom of UK footfall tables

Northern Irish customer numbers dropped by 6.9 per cent in a five-week period to the end of June. File photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters

Northern Irish customer numbers dropped by 6.9 per cent in a five-week period to the end of June. File photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters

 

Northern Ireland fell to the bottom of the UK’s shopper footfall tables for June as overall footfall in the North dropped by 5.2 per cent leading to grim warnings from retail chiefs about the future outlook for the retail sector.

Shopping streets across Northern Ireland suffered the worst decline, with customer numbers dropping by 6.9 per cent in a five-week period to the end of June, which was the poorest performance across the UK.

Although shopping-centre footfall also fell, it was at a much slower pace of just 0.2 per cent according to the latest Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) and Springboard footfall and vacancies report.

Aodhán Connolly, director of the NIRC, has warned that “continued falls” in shopper footfall numbers in the North are “not tenable for our industry”.

Mr Connolly said although retailers are working hard to encourage shoppers to spend their time and money on high streets and retail centres, the North could face “retail Armageddon,” unless the sector urgently gets support.

“Retail in Northern Ireland is likely to contract, as it has begun to do across the UK. The high streets of tomorrow are going to look very different from today and we need local councils and an Assembly to take bold decisions on supporting retail, hospitality and leisure.

“We need to make our town and city centres destinations and places to live, work and relax. There is seismic change happening in our high streets and in the retail industry led by policy costs and consumer behaviour,” he added.

Latest research suggests that shoppers are not simply looking to spend cash but are also seeking an overall “experience” when they visit shopping centres and the high street.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director with Springboard said: “It was clearly Northern Ireland’s high streets that bore the brunt of consumers railing back on their shopping trips with a drop in footfall of 6.9 per cent in June. However, the continuing and growing demand from consumers for experience meant that in regional cities across the UK – which by virtue of the sheer breadth and depth of their offer means they can deliver on experience – footfall was far more resilient, declining only very marginally by 0.6 per cent,” she said.