Northern Ireland retailers see footfall decline in December
Northern Ireland retailers may have had a disappointing Christmas according to industry figures that show the number of people going into shops was down almost 9% on last year.
The 'footfall' figures compiled for the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) showed a year-on-year fall of 8.7% in December.
This compares to a fall of 2.4% for the UK as a whole.
NIRC director Aodhán Connolly said the figures were "deeply concerning".
Official figures showing the value and volume of retail sales will be released later this week although they do not include a Northern Ireland breakdown.
Mr Connolly said that household budgets in Northern Ireland are under "the greatest pressure" of any UK region, but that the figures may also be influenced by changing consumer behaviour.
"We saw in last week's sales figures that multichannel was the story of the season, so increased online browsing and buying and use of services like click and collect has undoubtedly filtered through to these figures," he said.
"We also saw a last minute shopping surge as expected, as many people took the weekdays leading up to Christmas off and used them to finalise their festive spending."
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) expressed concern at the fall in footfall.
Chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "An 8.7% decline is a major cause for concern and we are surprised as a number of our members had reported an increase in footfall and sales in December.
"The executive should organise a major conference to bring together international experts in retail and regeneration to identify how other towns and cities across the world have successfully dealt with these problems and more importantly, how we can learn from them."
Last week the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said a record amount of online shopping was done in December 2013.
Close to one-in-five non-food items were bought online last month, according to the BRC survey.
There was also a 19.2% growth in internet purchases from a year earlier, the fastest increase in four years.