Undeterred by recent bomb attempts and security alerts, shoppers have been back in Belfast and town centres across the Province for the pre-Christmas rush.
Sprucefield was particularly busy in recent days with the PSNI on hand to regulate the lengthy queues of cars at peak times.
In Coleraine, the manager of the Diamond Shopping Centre said yesterday was “the day Christmas happened” after shoppers had been holding back as long as possible. Gwyneth McQuiston said the town had been unexpectedly quiet for December until then.
“It has been absolutely manic. We always in the retail trade would name a day that we say Christmas happened on.
“I had predicted Friday 20th but I would have to change that and say it happened today (Monday),” she said.
Although many stores have sold out of popular items such as perfume, Ms McQuiston said there would be deliveries through the night and the shelves re-stocked for Christmas Eve.
“This year we got the ‘park for five hours for a pound’ from DRD and that was fantastic – we’ve never been given anything like that before and it definitely helps.” Sprucefield manager Denise Greenan said a M&S Christmas sale had ensured a busy weekend, while this morning would see a rush for the last-minute items.
“Tuesday morning I would expect it to be busy and then it usually tails off and you get people just having a look and out for a coffee,” she said.
Commenting on previous reports of tempers flaring, Ms Greenan said: “This last couple of weeks you can see a bit of a change in people and they can run out of patience. The staff probably would have to take a bit more abuse than usual.”
Paul McMahon, centre director at CastleCourt in Belfast, said: “The build up to Christmas has seen strong trading across the centre and an increase in footfall compared to the same period last year. This performance in the run up to Christmas is encouraging and we expect to see high footfall and strong retail sales during the traditional post-Christmas sales.”
Independent retailers’ representative Glyn Roberts said provincial towns had much to offer Christmas shoppers.
“This is when smaller shops come into their own, when people are looking for that last-minute present or last-minute grocery shopping, and a lot of our members are really busy right up until closing on Christmas Eve.”
Brisk Christmas trading in Northern Ireland has followed a decline in shopper numbers in recent months.
According to the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, there were 6.3 per cent fewer shoppers in November than the same month last year – more than twice the drop of the UK as a whole where the figure was 2.9 per cent.
Consortium director Aodhan Connolly said: “Footfall levels have seen some slight recovery compared against October, but that’s small comfort when the drop is still so steep and lagging well behind the UK average.”