Scottish shopper numbers outpace the UK

David Lonsdale: 'Looking to next government'. Picture: Contributed

David Lonsdale: 'Looking to next government'. Picture: Contributed

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SCOTLAND’S stores have enjoyed the fastest rise in visitor numbers for seven months, according to figures published today that show a “polarisation” in consumer habits.

While the early arrival of Easter drove an increase in overall footfall, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) report shows people were increasingly drawn away from the country’s high streets towards out-of-town destinations.

This is the best performance since September and means footfall in Scotland has risen in ten of the past 12 months.

SRC director David Lonsdale

The study, compiled in collaboration with customer data specialist Springboard, reveals a jump in footfall to retail parks last month, but high streets and shopping centres witnessed a decline.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said overall shopper numbers in Scotland grew by 1.7 per cent in March – the fastest rise since September and ahead of the UK figure of 0.2 per cent.

She added: “However, the polarisation of shopper activity was far more pronounced in Scotland, with footfall in out-of-town locations increasing by 12.7 per cent compared with 3.8 per cent in retail parks across the UK, but with decreases in both high streets and shopping centres.”

Wehrle said activity was boosted last month as the two key trading days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday fell in the March trading period this year rather than in April, while retail parks were attracting more visitors as they become more “leisure oriented” and also play a growing role in “click and collect” points for online transactions.

Despite high streets being left in the cold, SRC director David Lonsdale described today’s figures as “heartening” as they record a second successive monthly expansion in footfall growth across Scotland.

“This is the best performance since September and means footfall in Scotland has risen in ten of the past 12 months, comparing favourably with other parts of the UK,” he said.

Total retail footfall for the UK as a whole edged up just 0.2 per cent, although that marked an improvement on the 0.5 per cent decline seen in February. Only the east of England outperformed Scotland last month, with shopper numbers rising 3.4 per cent, while there were also gains in the East Midlands, south-west England and Northern Ireland.

Lonsdale added: “Retailers are clearly working hard to attract custom through improved service, pricing and promotions but whether this – coupled with encouraging news of late on rising employment and wages – translates into a greater propensity to spend in shops or online remains to be seen.”

The SRC is due to release its latest spending data next week. The trade body reported a 1.4 per cent fall in total Scottish retail sales for February, as intense competition among the major supermarkets contributed to a steepening decline in food values.

Figures from market researcher Kantar Worldpanel last week showed discount grocer Aldi had overtaken upmarket rival Waitrose to become the UK’s sixth-largest supermarket as more shoppers searched for bargains. The chain’s takings soared by 16.8 per cent in the 12 weeks to 29 March, giving it a market share of 5.3 per cent – ahead of Waitrose at 5.1 per cent.

Kantar said Aldi and fellow German discounter Lidl now command a 9 per cent combined slice of the UK’s grocery spend, up from 5.4 per cent three years ago. In comparison, the market share enjoyed by the “big four” chains of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons is at its lowest level in a decade at 72.8 per cent.

Lonsdale, who was assistant director at CBI Scotland for eight years before joining the SRC at the start of 2014, said: “The outcome of the general election is only three weeks away, and the retail industry is looking to the next government to deliver a convincing plan to boost business and consumer confidence.”

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