Respite for retailers as trips to North wane
RETAILERS in the Republic can breathe a sigh of relief as the numbers going north to shop are on the wane.
The number of people visiting shopping centres and main streets is rising in the south, but has fallen significantly in Northern Ireland, footfall figures from research company Experian have shown.
These findings come as a new study questions the belief that there was an exodus of cross-border shoppers and that it has been very damaging to the economy in the Republic.
The 'Journal of Cross Border Studies in Ireland' said that figures showed shopping trips reached "very modest levels", except among people who lived in the border region, where 41pc went north.
"For all other regions in Ireland the average number of shopping trips per household was less than or equal to one per year," the study said, noting that 78pc of people in the south had no intention of going north to shop this year.
The study also estimated that southern shoppers spent €435m in Northern Ireland in the year to April 2009, which would have cost the Irish Government €45m in VAT and €25m in excise, less than 0.5pc of the total, they said.
However, money also came in the opposite direction, with cross-border tourist spending undoubtedly benefiting the south more than the North.
Also, the cost of Northern drivers filling up on petrol in the Republic is estimated to have been over £20m (€23m) for the UK government.
There were also longer-term benefits for both sides of the border.
"Increased availability of information and the removal of barriers stimulate market competition which ultimately leads to cost and price reductions. We have already seen some supermarket giants taking steps to reduce prices on the southern side of the border," said the report.
The latest figures from Experian, meanwhile, show the number of shopping trips in the Republic have risen in the last two months, albeit by just 1pc and 0.4pc respectively -- but this contrasts with the findings for Northern Ireland.
There, footfall is down almost 6pc compared with the first quarter of 2009, falling by 4.3pc in February and 4.6pc in March.
"It is possible that some of those southern shoppers who have been visiting Northern Ireland to take advantage of the weaker pound and the lower VAT rate are now looking for value for money closer to home," said Experian head of sales Paul Slevin.
"However, retailers in the Republic would welcome the news that more people are going shopping after a long period of decline, and Central Statistics Office figures show sales have increased compared with a year ago," he said.
The changes may also have been prompted by a narrowing of the price gap after Finance Minister Brian Lenihan cut VAT and excise rates, whereas the UK government raised theirs.
Shopping trips fell in both jurisdictions in January, but much of that is blamed on the very severe weather.