THE high street voucher looks set to launch from September 12, as part of the executive's GBP145 million plan to help revive our bricks and mortar stores by offering the public a GBP100 shopping voucher. The prepaid card is centred around breathing life back into the retail sector, that hasn't been without struggle since the pandemic began. Shoppers will have until November 30 to spend their cards.
Although the past two years have brought about multiple lockdowns and shop closures for long periods of time, the appetite for shopping is as strong as ever, with UK retail sales expected to have grown 12 per cent during the back-to-school period, compared to the same time pre-pandemic in 2019. Year-on-year sales are expected to grow 6.7 per cent compared to 2020, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment. The Boulevard has experienced these UK wide trends over the past number of months with trade figures healthily on an upward trajectory since reopening after lockdown.
In July 2021, we saw our fifth best month of sales in our entire trading history and sales have increased 38 per cent compared to the same month in 2019, with many of the big brand retailers registering sales which outperformed those at other outlets across the UK and Europe. There are a wide range of retailers here, including Molton Brown, Joules, Crew Clothing, Dune London, GUESS, Kurt Geiger, Jack Wills, Next and M&S along with a leisure offering that includes an eight-screen OmniplexMAXX Cinema, Moes Grill, Linen Hill Kitchen and Bar, McDonalds and more. Bringing in the GBP100 shopping voucher just after the summer months should help aid retail to continue to grow throughout autumn.
There was an evident shift in popularity to out-of-town retail post lockdown. The Boulevard's trading figures confirm that our USP of being a ground level, outdoor mall with (zero touch point) free car parking and strict health and safety initiatives, confidently implemented by our onsite team, ensures public confidence continues to remain strong here. It's an exciting time for consumers as we continue to invest in the offering here.
On the main road connecting Belfast and Dublin, The Boulevard's roster of retail brands will soon be bolstered by the arrival of a 3000sqm M&S Simply Food; a 4518sqm The Range; as well as a park-and-ride for the eagerly anticipated HBO Game of Thrones Studio Tour and visitor attraction. A world first, the soon-to-be tourist 'must-visit' is expected to bring more than 650,000 international tourists per year when it opens soon. So far, statistics and predictions are showing positive signs of growth for the retail industry in the UK and this should be seen also locally in Northern Ireland with our consumer behaviour looking favourable, and further aided by the GBP100 high street voucher scheme.
Chris Nelmes is centre director at The Boulevard in Banbridge.