The latest figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) has revealed that footfall in our town and city centres was 4.7% lower in December 2023 compared to the previous December. The reason for the downfall has been put down to inflationary pressures on families leading to the cost of living crisis, and the public transport strikes during the month.
Hospitality Is Now About Survival
Speaking about the difficult run up to Christmas for retail, Andy Rea, co-owner of Home restaurant in Belfast, is quoted in an article on the BBC News website as saying:
“Generally in hospitality in years gone by Christmas would be the cream. It would be a really good time to make a profit,” Mr Rea said.
“Hospitality, what has happened to us over the last few years, it’s now about survival.
“We need Christmas to get enough in the pot to keep us going through to the summer when the tourists come. In Christmas, we need to get bums on seats to get us through the new year.
“We are optimistic about January but it’s just not the same amount of profitability in hospitality as years gone by.”
An Increase In Big Ticket Sales
In the same article, Carol Little, who owns Alana Interiors in Lurgan, said that consumers were being very considered in their shopping and weighing up the best time to purchase items. She is quoted as saying:
“We’ve seen an increase in big ticket sales from straight after Christmas. The January sales would normally not have started properly in store until 2 or 3 January when we would re-open,” she said.
“But we were noticing that right after Christmas we were getting orders and that was different to previous years.”
And lastly, in the same article, the director of NIRC, Neil Johnston, said that:
“It has been a tough quarter for retailers perhaps reflecting consumers continuing concerns about inflation and their own financial position,” he said.
“Some of the decline in footfall may reflect the impact of online shopping – around a third of non-food retail sales are now purchased online.
“Retailers are increasingly adept at harnessing technology to get through to consumers who may not have the time or inclination to travel to physical shops.”
And asking for more support from the powers-that-be he said:
“Now is not the time for government to add to the costs of retailers,” he said.
“In the rest of the UK unfortunately the government has decided to push up business rates bills in April. Northern Ireland should not follow suit.
“We hope that, should an executive be re-established, its first decision should be to freeze the regional rate.”
That would certainly be a very good step in the right direction.