Shop sales see welcome rise in run-up to Easter break

Retail chiefs said the figures gave grounds for optimism leading up to Easter. Picture: John Devlin
Retail chiefs said the figures gave grounds for optimism leading up to Easter. Picture: John Devlin
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Retail sales in Scotland saw a welcome return to underlying growth in February after a disappointing January on the high street, figures released today reveal.

Although the BRC-Nielsen shop price index shows that total Scottish sales fell by 0.7 per cent compared with February 2015, when adjusted for deflation they increased by 1.4 per cent, the best monthly performance of the past year excluding Christmas and Easter.

Strong sales of furniture, mobile phones and beauty products helped non-food sales lift 1.8 per cent compared with a rise of 0.5 per cent in February 2015.

Total food sales were 1.1 per cent down on February 2015, when they had decreased 2.6 per cent, but the reduced fall was the best performance of the past two years, excluding Christmas and Easter.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said the figures were a “pleasant contrast to the dire performance witnessed in January and which most retailers were glad to see the back of”.

But he warned that the sector still faced significant challenges. “Notwithstanding this more encouraging data, the exponential growth of government-imposed tax and regulatory costs remains a pressing problem at a time of great structural upheaval for the retail industry.

“Retailers are looking to the Chancellor’s Budget and the Holyrood election for a clear demonstration that our politicians recognise the challenges facing the industry, and that they are prepared to take concerted action to reduce the cost of doing business in Scotland.”

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David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, said the figures provided some confidence to retailers that Scottish consumers are reacting to “normal operating levers”.

“Although the weather didn’t relent for much of February, successful seasonal campaigns helped lift the gloom for many retailers.”

He said the figures gave cause for optimism leading up to Easter. “The grocery sector continued to build momentum to its long haul out of the doldrums with the best non-Christmas or Easter performance for some 25 months.”

Clothing was the worst performing non-food sector, but McCorquodale said with Easter falling early this year “the fashion world will hope for warmer weather to build momentum for new collections”.

He added retailers would be hoping for measures to drive consumer confidence in the Budget.