Consumers cautious as Scottish sales creep ahead

Scottish shoppers are refusing to splash out ahead of the sales. Picture: Jane Barlow
Scottish shoppers are refusing to splash out ahead of the sales. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Scottish consumers are “stepping into Christmas with caution”, retail experts said today, after high street sales just managed to inch higher last month.

November saw the strongest performance by clothing and footwear retailers since July, while food sales continued to outperform other parts of the UK, according to the latest Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC)-KPMG sales monitor.

But the overall 1.6 per cent rise in total sales, compared to a year earlier, was below the rate of inflation, while the like-for-like result – which strips out the effect of store openings and additional selling space – was negative at minus 0.6 per cent.

David McCorquodale, head of retail at accountancy giant KPMG, which helps analyse the data, said: “Consumers are stepping into Christmas with caution but from a position of greater confidence than last year. As we enter the final lap in the run up to Christmas, we can take heart from the fact total sales in Scotland grew again.

“At this stage last year, we were used to recording negative total sales performance, particularly in the non-food segments. This year, the 12-month averages of food and non-food sales are both positive.”

Total non-food sales were 1.1 per cent up on November 2012.

The report noted that the predominately cold and dry conditions last month had provided “perfect opportunities for shopping trips” with consumers revamping their winter wardrobes. All segments were up strongly over the previous year, particularly womenswear, the SRC noted.

Footwear enjoyed a strong finish to the autumn, catching up in November with lost sales from the previous two months.

The research pointed to a weak performance for sales of electrical goods following a strong showing in October. It said customers may have been holding out for a better deal during the recent “black Friday” and “cyber Monday” events and in the final run-up to Christmas.

Health and beauty sales bounced back last month, though some retailers reported a slow start to sales of festive gifts. McCorquodale added: “Despite consumers remaining cash-strapped from the longest recession on record, signs are that this Christmas will be better than last year and that those retailers who have invested smartly in their multi-channel capabilities will grab the share of it from those who haven’t.

“With Christmas falling on a Wednesday this year, the high street still has extra shopping days to benefit when internet purchases can’t promise delivery before Santa.”

David Martin, head of policy at the SRC, said: “November’s figures strengthen the sense that many of us are still cautious and holding off on much of our seasonal spending until Christmas gets closer.

“Overall, this is an acceptable but unexceptional result, broadly in line with the annual and quarterly averages for growth, which suggests a slow but steady start to festive spending. Retailers will be pinning their hopes on momentum picking up as we enter the last few weeks before the big day.”