Lockdown triggers worst Scottish high street decline on record

Scottish high streets suffered the worst performance on record last month as the vast majority of retailers remained shuttered amid the coronavirus lockdown.

A virtually empty Buchanan Street in Glasgow as people observe the lockdown. Picture: John Devlin

Total sales north of the Border slumped 40.3 per cent compared with April last year, according to the latest retail sales monitor from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and KPMG, the professional services giant.

The decline is the sharpest recorded by the monitor since its inception in January 1999 and was driven by a near wipe-out in non-food sales.

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SRC director David Lonsdale said: “Retail sales in Scotland collapsed in April, the first full month under lockdown, plummeting to their lowest level in over two decades as a result of the chaos wrought by coronavirus.

“Unsurprisingly, discretionary spending bore the brunt of it, recording its worst ever performance as most shops were shuttered and shoppers switched their focus to essentials.

“The spike in online purchases failed to staunch much of the sharp drop. The decline affected all parts of retail, with even grocery waning as households whittled down stockpiled food and with Easter failing to muster much cheer.”

The latest figures showed that total food sales decreased 2.4 per cent, year-on-year. This is well below the three-month and 12-month average growth rates of 4.8 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively.

Total non-food sales plummeted 71.4 per cent last month compared to April 2019, when they were down just 3.8 per cent. This was the worst ever recorded by the SRC monitor.

Lonsdale added: “The few bright spots included sales of items which allowed people to work or school from home, especially computers and accessories. DIY, toys and games, and personal hygiene items – like anti-bacterial gel – performed well. Meanwhile the beauty, clothing, footwear, and furniture categories had a torrid time.

“Retailers are working hard to ready themselves to re-open safely, and to play their part in getting Scotland’s economy moving again, once they are permitted to do so by government.

“What is needed now is visibility on Scotland’s route out of lockdown and a sense of the likely sequencing and timeframes of any phased re-opening of shops. Regardless, the collapse in retail sales will be felt well beyond any easing of the restrictions on which shops can re-open over the coming weeks.”

Paul Martin, a partner at KPMG and its UK head of retail, added: “As Scotland now approaches two months of full lockdown, it’s no surprise that the country’s retailers are facing their biggest sales declines since records began.

“With total sales decreased by more than 40 per cent compared with April last year, it’s impossible to downplay the scale of the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on one of the country’s most important sectors.”

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Scottish high streets suffer worse sales slide in at least two decades

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