With news last night that Marks & Spencer are the latest high street store to announce major job cuts, it’s a worrying time for retailers on our small Island. Around 300 jobs are thought to be at risk at Marks & Spencer's Northern Ireland Stores as the dramatic impact of Covid-19 on the retail sector deepens.
M&S has around 2,800 staff here, where it opened its first store 53 years ago. The growing trend of working from home is thought to be a major influencing factor as footfall declines in city centre locations. With large numbers of office workers no longer around to pop into nearby stores to purchase lunch, groceries & other items the tills are a lot quieter these days.
However, in the midst of all this it has been reported that footfall in Northern Ireland's high streets increased by nearly 6% in the days following the introduction of mandatory face coverings. Are people more confident to venture out now that the majority of consumers are wearing masks? Face coverings became mandatory for shoppers in Northern Ireland last Monday, August 10 after weeks of speculation & debate about their effectiveness. The recent high street stats are encouraging but it’s the coming weeks that will really tell the tale.
According to the recent report by retail information service Springboard, the increase of 5.7% from Sunday to Friday last week off-set a bigger drop of 6.1% in footfall at shopping centres, with retail parks down 0.6% week-on-week. In total, across all Northern Ireland retail destinations footfall was up 2.7% week-on-week, compared to growth of just 0.8% across the UK as a whole.
However, a yearly comparison reveals that footfall is down by 23.2% in Northern Ireland across all retail types, compared to August 9 to August 15 last year.
With our high streets suffering during the COVID pandemic now more than ever it’s important to shop local. High Street stores & multinationals employ local people and play a huge part in our Community as many not only offer employment, but also support our Clubs & organisations through fundraising & donations. With the new guidance around face coverings & most businesses supplying sanitization stations at the entrance, shoppers should feel more confident in the days & weeks ahead.
The Government back “Eat Out to Help Out” Scheme is reporting that diners availed of the discounts over 10.5 million times within the first week, again showing a keenness to venture out again after months of limited movement for the majority of people. With many local restauranteurs calling for the scheme to be extended into September in order to help them claw back trade lost during lockdown, its clear that the HMRC incentive has had a positive effect on the businesses who opted in.
For any business owners needing advice on current legislation, provision of PPE and how to protect customers & staff – please contact the Business Team at Dungannon Enterprise Centre on 028 8772 3489. Further information can also be found at nibusinessinfo.co.uk