SCOTTISH retailers enjoyed their best August in four years with a surprise upturn in sales of big-ticket items such as furniture and televisions bolstering confidence on the high street.
Today’s monthly sales monitor from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and accountancy firm KPMG is the latest sign that the economic recovery may be gathering momentum.
Industry leaders said stores were well placed for the autumn season and starting to get into gear for the crucial Christmas countdown.
Total sales rose by 3.5 per cent last month, well ahead of the rate of inflation, and marking the strongest outcome since 2009. At 3.4 per cent, Scotland’s three-month average growth rate is now in line with the UK as a whole.
While like-for-like sales, which strip out store openings and extensions, were up by just 0.8 per cent compared with a year earlier, there was a 1.7 per cent jump in non-food takings.
The report highlighted strong sales of technology and home improvement items, while clothing and footwear were underpinned by a “good start” to the back-to-school season.
SRC director Fiona Moriarty said: “The best August since 2009 has helped to keep the positive momentum going following a record-breaking July.
“Combined with a recent uplift in Scottish consumer confidence, the signs are that many of us are increasingly feeling more optimistic about the economy and responding well to retailers’ targeted promotions and new ranges.”
She said it was a “very encouraging” three months, putting retailers in a “good position as we shift to a new season and start getting into gear for the all-important Christmas countdown”.
David McCorquodale, KPMG’s head of retail, credited the sales lift to the sunny weather and newspaper reports citing rising consumer confidence. He said: “The welcome warmth of summer continued to stoke the tills on the high street in August.
“As the sunshine continued and media reports hinted at increases in consumer confidence, shoppers responded to give retailers another positive month.
“Fashion retailers and garden centres benefited from the weather but the surprise package was the uplift in sales of furniture and flooring which, due to its higher ticket price, gives the strongest indication of returning consumer confidence.”
McCorquodale blamed a 0.3 per cent dip in like-for-like sales of food on comparisons with last August when the London Olympics were in full swing. He added: “With schools back and the heat of the summer cooling, the retail sector is now focusing on autumn-winter collections and Christmas campaigns.
“Controlling the cost base and managing working capital remain critical for retailers hoping that the uplift in consumer confidence is sustainable.”
Despite the encouraging sales figures, there are signs many town centres remain in the doldrums.
A report from the Local Data Company warns that high street vacancies remain “stubbornly high”. Its data for Britain reveals that the average vacancy rate in the top 650 centres sits at 14.1 per cent, barely unchanged from a reading of 14.2 per cent taken in February.