Retail gloom may be overdone as Scots shoppers hit the high street

Only the West Midlands had better footfall figures for December than Scotland. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Only the West Midlands had better footfall figures for December than Scotland. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Scotland has seen the second largest increase in shopper numbers in the UK, according to figures today which point to signs of life on the nation’s high streets.

The number of people visiting stores was 6.2 per cent higher last month than in December 2011, according to the Scottish Retail Consortium/Springboard “footfall monitor”. Scotland was just one of four areas of the UK to record an increase in the volume of shoppers, and was second only to the West Midlands, where there was a 10 per cent rise.

It comes after earlier figures showed that total sales by value in Scotland last month were 1.5 per cent higher than a year ago – making it the first time the retail performance north of the Border has equalled that of the UK since January 2011. Taking inflation into account, sales were broadly flat in real terms.

Since the turn of the year, Britain’s battered retail sector has endured a string of high profile casualties amid a squeeze on consumer spending and the soaring popularity of online shopping. Experts fear that other chains will go to the wall as those pressures intensify.

However, recent figures from a number of retailers, including Argos, Currys owner Dixons and John Lewis have highlighted pockets of resilience on the high street.

Scottish Retail Consortium director Fiona Moriarty said: “Scotland saw the second-best rate of footfall growth of any part of the UK in December. That’s a really positive result and bears out the optimism of our sales figures last week, with growth in line with the rest of the UK for the first time in nearly two years.

“While tough times in the economy are far from over, it seems that many of us are acclimatising to the new realities – difficult is the new norm. The signs are that many people planned ahead for Christmas so that they didn’t have to keep an excessively tight rein on their festive shopping.”

Across the UK, shopper numbers for December were 1.2 per cent lower than the final month of 2011.

This included a 0.5 per cent average decline in shoppers on the country’s high streets, a 1 per cent decrease in the number of people going out of town for their purchases, and a fall of 2.8 per cent in the number of people visiting shopping centres. The Greater London area saw a rise in overall shopper numbers, but at 3.1 per cent the increase was half that experienced in Scotland.

Meanwhile, Wales suffered the largest fall, with 11.5 per cent fewer people in the stores in December than there had been a year earlier.

Diane Wehrle, research director at Springboard, said: “The tough trading conditions faced by retailers are reflected in footfall trends.”

She noted that shoppers were making fewer trips, but were spending more on their visits to the stores.

Wehrle also said people were “incorporating the internet fully into their purchasing journey to compare products and prices, and the growth in importance of ‘click and collect’ is a positive trend in attracting footfall”.

The survey records footfall at more than 500 shopping locations in 152 towns and cities across the UK.

December footfall changes (year-on-year)


West Midlands +10%

Scotland +6.2%

Greater London +3.1%


Wales -11.5%

East of England -7.1%

North of England & Yorkshire -4.8%