NORTHERN Ireland consumers showed the rest of the country a clean pair of heels in December as shopper numbers rose by 0.6 per cent on a year ago and 2.6 per cent over the previous month.
However the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) says today that the ongoing disruptions as a result of the flag protest has impacted on footfall.
Nevertheless, the latest figures, contained in the report from sister organisation the British Retail Consortium (BRC), show that UK footfall in December was 1.2 per cent lower than a year ago, a poorer performance than the 0.4 per cent rise the previous month.
Footfall weakened in all three locations compared with a year earlier.
Shopping centres reported the greatest fall (-2.8%), followed by out-of-town (-1.0%) and high street (-0.5%) locations.
The hardest-hit parts of the UK in December were Wales (-11.5%), the East of England (-7.1%) and the North & Yorkshire (-4.8%).
Four nations/regions reported an increase in footfall, including the West Midlands (10.0%), Scotland (6.2%) and Greater London (3.1%).
“This small increase in footfall is a baby step, not a major stride, and it could have been so much better,” said NIRC director Aodhán Connolly.
“Shopper numbers in the third quarter of 2012 leapt up by a promising 14.4 per cent, so this comparatively anaemic growth dashes hopes that we were on the cusp of decisive and sustained recovery.
“The continuing violence in Northern Ireland is undoubtedly impacting on footfall and sales, and we also have stark evidence from members that the protests are affecting deliveries to stores and customers. More importantly, every day that it goes on it sends the wrong signals about the country as a place to invest and do business, both compared against the rest of the UK and on the global stage.”
Mr Connolly said an urgent review was needed into how to project the positive face of Northern Ireland to the rest of the world.
“The real damage will not be felt now, but when companies are choosing where to invest for the future.”
Diane Wehrle, Research Director at Springboard, said: “The tough trading conditions faced by retailers are reflected in footfall trends, with annual declines in all but one week in both November and December which coincided with the payday weekends. In December, customers were savvy to retailers’ discounting, leaving it very late to do the bulk of their Christmas shopping, holding off until the last full week before Christmas when footfall increased annually by 7.5%. However, this late surge wasn’t enough to drive footfall up from last year, leaving the month down by 1.2 per cent year on year.
“The positive sales increases in November and December indicate that shoppers are making fewer trips but spending more per visit. With online sales registering their highest uplift this year, consumers are clearly incorporating the internet fully into their purchasing journey to compare products and prices, and the growth in importance of “click and collect” is a positive trend in attracting footfall for retail locations.
“Interestingly, high streets have latterly been more resilient than shopping centres, with smaller year on year declines in footfall in November and December. However, at least part of this is a function of the fact that footfall in high streets previously fell more than that in shopping centres so additional falls are coming from a lower base. It seems that the impact of the tough trading environment is now reverberating through to shopping centres and retail parks.”