One in eight high street shop premises lay vacant last month, the latest retail figures show.
The town centre vacancy rate for Scotland was 12 per cent in January, up from 11.1 per cent in October and above the UK average of 9.9 per cent.
Footfall dropped both on the high street (3.7 per cent), and in retail parks (0.7 per cent) compared with a year ago, but grew by 0.7 per cent in shopping centres.
The figures were published in the latest Scottish Retail Consortium-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor, covering the period from December 30 to January 26.
SRC director David Lonsdale said the numbers offered “few crumbs of comfort” for retailers.
He said: “The shop vacancy rate spiked once again, to the highest figure for five years, and the fourth successive quarter that the rate has been above 10 per cent.
“It is troubling that almost one in every eight retail premises in our town centres now lies vacant, more so with retailers’ business rates bills set to escalate by a further £13.2 million this coming April. Whilst shopper footfall recorded its best performance for five months, offering a glimmer of light, the fact is it still contracted compared to a year ago, albeit at a less pronounced rate than over the past quarter and indeed year as a whole.
“This is further proof of the profound transformation affecting the retail industry, due to changing shopping habits, rising cost pressures and becalmed consumer spending.
“Retailers and shopping destinations are clearly going to have to work harder to attract custom through a blend of improvements to service, experience, pricing and promotions.
“Policymakers can play their part through a more concerted effort to halt and then begin to reverse relentless rises in costs.”
In 2018, Poundworld, Toys R Us, Maplin and House of Fraser all went into administration, while distressed retailers including Mothercare, Carpetright, New Look and Homebase used company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) to close stores.
Several restaurant chains – Gaucho, Byron, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Prezzo and Jamie’s Italian – also shut outlets.
Across British high streets nearly 20,000 jobs have been lost or put in jeopardy since Christmas.