Scottish retailing hit by 8.2% decrease in shoppers
SCOTLAND’S struggling retail sector suffered a deeply worrying start to the summer, with the number of shoppers in the three months to July down 8.2 per cent on the same time last year.
Latest figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) show a steep decline in the number of people hitting the shops, with the lack of business in Scotland worse than everywhere except London.
Both Northern Ireland and Wales had increased footfall, of 6.2 per cent and 4 per cent respectively, and the drop in Scotland is much higher than the 2.3 per cent reduction experienced across the UK as a whole.
The data showed that, while all forms of shopping saw a slump, it was the high-street stores that were the worst hit in the May to July quarter.
The number of shoppers at town-centre stores across the UK fell 5.5 per cent year-on-year in the quarter, while out-of-town shops suffered a 1.2 per cent fall and shopping centres saw a 0.4 per cent decline.
Across the UK, footfall on the high streets has now fallen for 18 months, driven by job fears and pressure on consumer spending, according to the report.
Richard Lim, an economist with the SRC, said there was little sign of things improving.
“Apart from a Christmas boost in December, footfall has now been down in Scotland for 12 months in a row,” he said.
“People are short of money, worried about jobs and are not spending, which is hitting numbers of shoppers and successful shops.”
He said that more families were cutting back on spending in “this period of falling disposable incomes”, and he could not predict there was going to be any relief soon.
“Only when confidence returns will we see more customers out and retailers taking on some of those unused shops,” Mr Lim said.
“These figures don’t suggest that turning point is imminent.”
According to the SRC/Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor, only Greater London – where there was an 8.9 per cent drop in footfall – had a larger reduction in shopper numbers than Scotland.
Diane Wehrle, research director at Springboard, blamed the rain for the high street’s woes compared with other locations.
She said: “Throughout April to July, the high street experienced a more dramatic footfall drop compared with shopping centres and out-of-town locations, with the gap widening since the same quarter in 2011.
“The wet weather was undoubtedly a key factor as consumers preferred covered retail areas to escape the wettest three months on record.
“Out-of-town retail locations have also shown more resilience – they… are more convenient to access by car and provide cheaper car parking, and again consumers can avoid venturing outside in the rain.”
The report also found that while the proportion of empty stores in Scotland rose between April and July, the country still had a lower town-centre vacancy rate than the UK as a whole.
Last month, Scotland had a vacancy rate of 10.5 per cent, meaning about one in ten premises is standing empty.
The figure is up from 9 per cent in April, but the vacancy rate across the UK is 11.4 per cent and in Northern Ireland almost one in five shops are empty, with a rate of 18.5 per cent.
Mr Lim said: “The fact that town-centre shop vacancy rates are better than the UK average offers a bit of comfort, but Scotland still has one in ten premises standing empty.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The retail sales index, published earlier this month, shows that the retail sales performance over the year continues to show growth in Scotland, but with a small fall in the volume and value of retail sales in the second quarter of 2012.
“This government and our enterprise agencies are working to maintain Scotland’s position as the most supportive business environment in the UK through actions such as the small business bonus scheme and other reliefs, which provides zero or reduced business rates for 63 per cent of retail premises in Scotland.”
Stephen Robertson, director-general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “In most parts of the UK, it’s a continuing story of people being short of money, reluctant or unable to spend, resulting in consistently high levels of empty shops.”
He added: “There was little sign of a general Jubilee bounce, though the wettest June on record did produce the only month when shopping centre footfall rose as people avoided going outside.
“Retailers will be hoping the Olympics had a more positive impact.”
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