The Scottish Chambers of Commerce, The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium -- as well as leading retail analysts have warned that a strong Christmas could be make or break for many local firms which have been hard hit by the pandemic.
The Scotsman has launched a campaign, #SupportLocal, to boost business for local companies in the run up to the festive season.
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “This festive period is going to feel a little different for us all this year, however customers are going to want to keep Christmas special. After a tough eight months for Scotland’s high streets, local retailers are pinning their hopes on a bit more sparkle in the weeks leading up to Christmas.”
Shop prices overall are already falling, ahead of the traditional Christmas discount period. Even major online retailers such as Amazon are encouraging customers to shop early, slashing prices ahead of its usual Black Friday start to the festive period.
Mr Lonsdale said: “With shop prices overall falling and with plenty of competition for their custom, shoppers are set to benefit from some great deals on items like clothing, electrical goods, home entertainment and beauty products.
“Shopping is one of the best ways we can help our local economy, local jobs, and our community. We’re incredibly fortunate to have a quality retail offering locally, but we each need to get out and use it or, frankly, risk losing it. Shopping in good time for Christmas beats the last minute rush and makes for a safer shopping experience for us all.”
Retailers have been hard-hit by restrictions which forced the majority of them to close for three months earlier in the year, while the continued absence of office workers have also taken their toll. Many towns and cities have also been affected by the cancellation of major events, such as the Edinburgh festivals.
Business owners have warned that footfall – as well as turnover - is already below what it usually is for the time of year, as many shoppers shun face to face transactions in physical stores amid fears over the spread of coronavirus.
The final two months of the year traditionally accounts for a fifth of annual retail spend for a typical small retailer.
Leigh Sparks, professor of retail at Stirling University, said: “The pandemic has encouraged consumers to shop more locally, but trade remains fragile in many sectors and for many businesses. There remains huge uncertainty over what the run-up to and Christmas itself will look like.
“There are restrictions in many parts of the country and consumer confidence (and indeed business confidence) is volatile. Uncertainty is never a good thing in retailing and so the more that local retailers can sense and see that consumers are supporting them with their spending, the better.”
Andrew McRae, an Edinburgh retailer and policy chair of FSB Scotland, said: “Christmas is traditionally a time when retailers can gird their loins for the lean months at the beginning of the New Year but I know, both from my own businesses and from speaking to many other Edinburgh retailers, that sales and footfall are far below where they would normally be at this time of year. Edinburgh city centre is faring particularly badly. It’s a shadow of its usual self in terms of people around in general and in the numbers spending money in smaller shops and whilst some of the city’s suburban shops may have fared a little better, many retailers are having to fall back on reserves and borrowing to try to survive to the other side of the pandemic.”
He added: “Small businesses are often family run by local people. Their takings are invested back in the business and the local economy and their character reflects the richness and diversity of what makes the city the attractive place we all know and love. If everyone spends just a little more with their local independent businesses, it will make a huge difference to their capacity to weather this storm and continue to serve local people.”
Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, urged shoppers to consider putting their cash into local businesses - if they have money to spend on Christmas shopping this year.
While many consumers have found their finances have been hit hard after being made redundant, taking a pay cut, or being placed on furlough, those who have retained their pre-covid incomes have saved money as a result of lower spending. A report published in September by AA Financial Services found that 85 per cent of UK adults have spent less during lockdown. The average person still receiving their full income has saved £617 a month.
She said: “Businesses across Scotland have suffered an unprecedented shock as a result of the coronavirus and lockdown restrictions.
“Now, more than ever, if you are fortunate enough to have spare cash to spend this Christmas, please make it count by spending it where it can have a positive impact on your local community.”
She added: “There really is no getting away from the difficulties our local high streets and services face. For consumers, it really is a case of “use it or lose it”.