Brexit uncertainty blamed for declining Scots footfall

The number of shoppers on Scotland's high streets fell last month. Picture: John Devlin

The number of shoppers on Scotland's high streets fell last month. Picture: John Devlin

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Uncertainty over membership of the EU is contributing to declining footfall at Scottish shops, according to a fresh report.

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) found there was a 6.2 per cent fall in shopper numbers in April compared with the same month last year.

Analysts highlighted poor weather, a rise in unemployment and “uncertainty in this pre-EU referendum period” as factors in the fall.

Traditional high street stores and shopping centres saw the biggest decline in shoppers but SRC said the figures were partly offset by a rise in visitors to retail parks.

READ MORE: Mixed performance for Scottish retail in March

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at retail body Springboard, said: “April’s footfall figures certainly echo the high street decline seen over recent months, which can be attributable to the poor weather for this time of year, but with digital sales and retail parks also slowing down it signifies something more at play.

“The rise in unemployment and economic uncertainty in this pre-EU referendum period has undoubtedly adversely impacted consumer activity. We know that cuts in retail spending are the first line of defence against threats to household budgets when consumer confidence is knocked.”

READ MORE: EU referendum: Business leaders warn UK already being damaged

The report also found a decrease in the number of empty shops across the country – at 8.4 per cent in April, down from 9.1 per cent at the same time last year.

SRC director David Lonsdale said: “These are at best mixed results, with a slight and welcome improvement in the shop vacancy rate greatly tempered by a third successive month of declining shopper footfall numbers.

“Indeed, April saw an acceleration of the recent downwards trend in shopper footfall in our retail destinations, tumbling for a third successive month and at a faster rate than over the past quarter and indeed the year as a whole.

“That said, we do have to keep in mind that Scottish retailers are increasingly adept at harnessing the internet and multi-channel innovations to get through to consumers who might not have time to travel to the shops.

“Until April’s Scottish sales figures are published we won’t know what impact this waning of footfall numbers has had on actual retail sales.

“This is a time of significant tumult for the retail industry and shoppers undoubtedly remain cautious. The Holyrood Parliament now exerts significant influence over take-home pay and the cost of living, and it remains to be seen what impact the planned changes to council tax and devolved income tax next year will have on disposable incomes and consumer confidence.”

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