Independent Retail Sector Optimistic For Future of Northern Ireland High Street

Independent retailers in Northern Ireland are confident about the future of their shopping areas, according to a survey.

Despite a gloomy period for major chain stores here, the independent retail sector appears in much more buoyant mood.

That’s according to a survey of 2,000 consumers and 750 independent high street retailers across the UK.

The report – launched ahead of the 2018 Great British High Street Awards – found that six in 10 store owners here are optimistic about the future of their high street.

And 90% of local shoppers said they would miss the high street if it was no longer there.

Nine in 10 shoppers said they felt the high street was “about people”, while half (50%) of retailers surveyed here said their high street was improving.

But it wasn’t all positive. Two-thirds (66.7%) of shoppers here described their high street as “staying the same” or “getting worse”, and 22.2% claimed there weren’t enough shops and services on it to meet their needs. The awards, sponsored by Visa, have been backed by the UK Government.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, who now holds the post of Communities Secretary, said: “High streets are crucial in creating jobs, nurturing small businesses and driving local and regional economies.

“We want to celebrate the best examples of high streets, as well as those individual businessmen and women playing a leading role.

“The Government is doing everything in our power to ensure high streets continue to thrive.”

Chief executive of Retail NI Glyn Roberts said the results of the survey largely mirrored the findings of its own report, published recently ahead of the annual Independents’ Day campaign on July 4.

Mr Roberts said the Retail NI report showed that the biggest deciding factor in people visiting an independent store was to support local businesses (62%) as well as better customer service (32%) and the convenience of local shops (36%).

“Our members are showing a new sense of confidence, but not complacency, that retail trends are moving in the right direction,” he said.

“This survey also shows that while local shoppers value local independent retailers, much more work needs to be done to improve and enhance town centres and high streets.

“The iron rule of retail is that change is the only constant.”

The awards were last held in 2016, when Blackburn in Lancashire was the big winner.