Shopper footfall numbers improved marginally in Northern Ireland last month, official figures show.
However, retailers remained fearful that trading in the lead-up to Christmas will be severely impacted by rising inflation.
They have called for the incoming Prime Minister to immediately outline what packages of support will be offered to consumers the ease the burden on household budgets.
Data from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) and Sensormatic IQ covering the four weeks from July 31 to August 27 show that overall footfall in the region decreased by 11.5 per cent compared to the same period three years ago, which was 0.8 percentage points better than July. It is better than the UK average decline of 12.4 per cent.
Shopping centre footfall declined by 13.2 per cent in August (Yo3Y) in the north, a weakening on the decline of 9 per cent in July, and in Belfast city, it decreased by 13.1 per cent – 0.3 percentage points worse than July.
David Lonsdale from the British Retail Consortium said: “August saw a slightly more upbeat set of figures for visits to stores in Northern Ireland and the best performance for four months, with concerns about rising household bills not enough to keep shoppers away.
“Buoyed by the return of holidaying, social occasions and tourism, the modest improvement in shopper footfall wasn’t felt across all retail destinations as shopping centres and Belfast city centre struggled.
“Despite the overall improvement, visits to stores remain well down on pre-pandemic levels. That’s worrying given inflationary headwinds and the likely impact on consumer sentiment and spending power, more so in the lead up to what is traditionally the crucial golden trading quarter for the industry in the final months of the year.”
He added: “Next week will see the election of the new Prime Minister. Early action is needed to protect living standards and assist retailers to keep down shop prices. After all, much of our wider economy is ultimately dependent on what happens to consumer spending.”
Andy Sumpter from Sensormatic Solutions added: “Despite the heatwave cooling shopper numbers for periods during the month, August footfall on the whole remained resilient with performance improving against pre-pandemic levels compared to July, boosted in part by August staycations and rising tourist numbers returning.
“But while the outlook for August remained cheery, retailers will be looking ahead to the autumn – and retail’s golden quarter of Christmas trading – with an air of caution as the cost-of-living crisis continues to play out, and they await to see what packages of support will be offered to consumers the ease the burden on household budgets once the new PM is announced next week.”