BETTER weather brought some retail relief to the province as the number of shoppers out on the high street in July rose by three per cent over last year.
The figures published today in the Springboard report from the British Retail Consortium also reveal a marked jump from the 5.9 per cent decline posted just a month before in June.
Nationally, footfall across the UK was up just 0.8 per cent on the year before, with high streets reporting the greatest rise, up 2.3 per cent, followed by out-of-town, 0.9 per cent. Footfall in shopping centres fell 2.3 per cent in July, an improvement on June’s 3.0 per cent decline.
Vacancy levels in Northern Ireland improved marginally, dropping from 18.1 to 18 per cent but the province is still trailing well behind the national rate of 11.1 per cent in July.
“It’s a real relief to see that shopper numbers are on the up again after the previous month’s steep drop,” said Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.
“There are signs that retailers also read the weather and improving economic outlook well, encouraging more of us out to shop for seasonal food, fashion and other summer must-haves with broad ranges and targeted promotions.
“The vacancy figures offer less cause for cheer – although marginally down on the previous quarter Northern Ireland still retains the unenviable position of having the highest number of empty shops by quite a considerable margin. “Over the coming months, we’ll be working closely with government to explore ways to support investment and make a tangible and lasting difference to our town centres.”
Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said: “For the first time it seems that a longer term improvement in footfall trends might be emerging.
“Not only has footfall increased annually for the second month in a row, but the improvement in performance accelerated over the quarter, moving from a decline of -0.7 per cent in May to an increase of 0.1 per cent in June and 0.8 per cent in July.
“Whilst the recent hot weather undoubtedly supported activity in high streets, the 1.0 per cent uplift in footfall over the quarter is likely to have contributed to a drop in the vacancy rate.
“It seems that occupiers are starting to return to the high street, suggesting a greater degree of optimism over future trading prospects and lending further support to the proposition the performance of retail locations is stabilising.”