Northern Ireland shoppers more ‘bullish about Brexit’ than GB consumers

Consumers in Northern Ireland are less concerned about the impact of Brexit on their spending habits than many other parts of the UK, according to the latest survey from PwC.

However as the UK prepares to leave the European Union on October 31st, PwC’s Consumer Sentiment Autumn 2019 survey found one in three people in Northern Ireland (32%) still expect to be worse off financially as compared to last year.

PwC’s Consumer Sentiment survey polled 2,000 adults across the UK, who were asked a series of questions to gauge how well off they think their household is, and how that will translate into future spending patterns.

Despite the political upheavals affecting the UK, overall consumer sentiment has remained remarkably resilient over the past five years. While September’s survey shows a modest decline since sentiment was last measured in April, UK consumers are still more positive about their personal prospects than immediately after the EU referendum, and significantly more positive than during the last recession and recovery period. 

Northern Ireland and Scotland are the only regions where the perceived impact of Brexit has not deteriorated since April. When PwC  surveyed then, 23% of people in NI said they had not changed their spending habits in the last twelve months but expected to do so in the next twelve months. That fell to 15% when surveyed in September. When it comes to Brexit, 60% of people in Northern Ireland said the political uncertainty will not make them change their spending habits, while a quarter expect to be better off overall.

When asked about how they would spend their money, just over a quarter of people in Northern Ireland (27%) said they would spend more on grocery shopping - as in previous surveys. In every other category people said they would spend less, with the top three areas being eating out (33%), followed by going out to the cinema, pub or theatre (32%) and going on holidays (27%).

Optimism levels among consumers vary significantly by age group. Sentiment has fallen most sharply among those aged 25 and under - down by 25 percentage points compared with April- although they still remain the most positive age bracket over all. In contrast, there has been a slight uptick in sentiment amongst 55-64 year olds since April, even though this age group remains the most pessimistic overall.

Martin Cowie, Partner at PwC NI, commented: 

“Consumers in Northern Ireland appear to be displaying a bullishness towards Brexit, with the majority of people saying it will have no impact on their spending habits. Overall UK consumers are still more positive about their personal prospects than immediately after the EU referendum, and significantly more positive than during the last recession and recovery period.

“Nevertheless, Brexit aside, more people in Northern Ireland expect to be worse off this year than they were last year. With the Autumn consumer sentiment level at its lowest ebb since 2014, this could see retailers and leisure operators impacted by shoppers reducing their festive budgets in the critical run up to Christmas. 

“It poses a challenge but, outside London, Northern Ireland has  the highest number of people who believe they’ll be better off than this time last year. And with the majority reporting they don’t expect to change their shopping habits - by devising innovative approaches to attracting shoppers in the busy festive season, businesses can turn this to their advantage.”

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said:  

“Despite the political upheavals affecting the country, consumer sentiment has remained remarkably resilient over the past five years. 

“While our survey shows a decline since we last measured sentiment in April, British consumers are still more positive about their personal prospects than immediately after the EU referendum, and significantly more positive than during the last recession and recovery period.

“However, where there has been a drop off in consumer confidence, it is largely concentrated amongst younger people, with a staggering 25 point decline amongst under 25 year olds, at a time of year when we have historically seen a bounce in sentiment in this age group.

“With Autumn sentiment at a five year low, retailers and operators in the leisure sector may face a challenging run up to the critical festive season, especially for those brands targeting younger consumers.”

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