Christmas trading “up significantly” on 2021 figures
Several Northern Ireland retailers have reported strong Christmas trading this month, with some noticing a “significant increase in turnover”.
Lockdowns and covid restrictions meant the last two Christmas periods suffered in terms of footfall levels and sales, however this year sees a return to more ‘normal’ trading conditions.
Indeed, some of NI’s key retailers are witnessing a surge in sales, with footfall and basket spend increasing “significantly” and trading in some already up 9.3% on the same period 12 months ago.
“We have noticed a significant increase in turnover this year compared to the previous year in our core grocery sales,” explained Ruairi McBride, manager at Ivan Wilson Limited, Limavady.
“Over the last eight weeks we are trading up 9.3% on the same period last year. Footfall has also increased significantly with an increase of 3.6% and the average basket spend is up 3.2% as well,” he added.
Gary McCulloch from JC Stewart Foodhall, Magherafelt said their December trading has been “very strong” with an emphasis still on ‘Shop Local, Support Local’.
“We remain to have a great level of growth in our business,” said Gary. “We have just ended a shop local campaign rewarding customers for their loyalty with a ‘win a £100 voucher’ campaign over the past six weeks, giving away £600. This was the highest response to the campaign to date with thousands of entries weekly.
“Sales and footfall remain very positive with our store considered a destination for everything Christmas. We have a great customer base who remain to support us year-on-year and this is reflected in the strong sales growth.”
Gary said their customers have been focusing on making Christmas as special as possible.
“We have found that Christmas this year is all about the family and purchases suggest that it’s a year to go all out and enjoy the festive period, with a significant rise in pre-orders for meat and desserts,” he said.
‘We have noticed a significant increase in turnover this year compared to the previous year in our core grocery sales’ Ruairi McBride
Overall, however consumers are remaining cautious in their spending habits, according to Jonathan McCullagh, from McCullagh’s Classic in Omagh.
“It really is a mixed bag with our customer mix. Those that can afford to will go all out and others, given the current economic circumstances, are very price conscious,” he said.
“SPAR’s 12 Deals of Christmas has driven that value message in store and has proven to be a great hit with customers this year.”
This trend is being witnessed by other retailers across the province.
“This year has been really tough with the cost of living becoming incredibly expensive for everyone,” said Ruairi McBride.
“Our customers with young kids have been more considered in their shopping habits and actively seeking the promotional items in store. Those customers that don’t have young dependents seem to have adopted a different mindset and don’t seem to put as much thought into their purchasing habits.”
Cormac Rice, from Carnbrooke in Lisburn said they also have a “mixed demographic”.
“There is something for everyone here. Customers shop with us for quality, provenance and service. The trend we have in both foodhalls is customers wanting quality products and something they can’t get everywhere else,” he said.
Indeed, Cormac said this was also a factor in their cross-border trade.
“As a destination for local and quality food products, we do have an element of customers travelling cross-border, particularly at weekends,” he said.
“Although small in the overall mix of more local shoppers, we do have many customers travelling 20-30 miles to purchase the Carnbrooke products. There has been an increase in home deliveries since we launched our website in early 2022, which has helped showcase our offering cross-border,” he added.
Stock remains in “good supply” for many retailers ahead of the expected rush in the coming days, and they are all anticipating a significant increase in footfall as the final Christmas preparations are made.
“We expect to see a strong uplift in sales compared to other years, with customers coming to us for all their Christmas shopping,” said Gary McCulloch.
‘If customers trust you for their Christmas essentials, then you have a good chance of securing their custom for the rest of the year’ Jonathan McCullagh
“This is expected to be our busiest Christmas trading period to date and a time to drive sales throughout the store.”
“These are our busiest days of the year in terms of sales,” agreed Jonathan McCullagh. “Footfall and customer basket spend will increase significantly.
“It’s our aim to ensure we offer value and that the customer can find everything they need within our store – if customers trust you for their Christmas essentials, then you have a good chance of securing their custom for the rest of the year, so it’s a key trading period.”
Cormac Rice said that due to the “vast amount” of their fresh food offering, the last few days before Christmas sees “a huge uplift in footfall and spend”.
“At the peak, a busy day could see turnover more than triple a busy weekend’s trade,” he said.
“We have extended our trading hours as it would be impossible to manage the volume of orders and footfall. Although extremely busy, we are well organised and it runs very smoothly.
“It’s a very busy time up until the doors close on Christmas Eve. Everyone enjoys a few days off, as the whole business closes at that point for a well-deserved break.”