Scottish sales 'stutter' as lockdown lifting fails to drive return to high street

Scottish retailers suffered a “summer sales stutter” last month as the lifting of lockdown restrictions failed to get shoppers back to the high street en masse.

New industry figures show that total sales in Scotland increased by 3.2 per cent in August, compared with the same month a year earlier, when they had decreased by 7.5 per cent as a result of the Covid crisis.

Measured on a two-year basis, total retail sales continue to perform below pre-pandemic levels, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) noted.

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The latest sales monitor from the SRC and KPMG showed that total food sales nudged up 0.5 per cent, year-on-year, while non-food sales increased by 5.4 per cent compared with August 2020.

Shoppers pictured on Edinburgh's famous Princes Street. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA WireShoppers pictured on Edinburgh's famous Princes Street. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Shoppers pictured on Edinburgh's famous Princes Street. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Adjusted for the estimated effect of online sales, total non-food sales were up by 3.1 per cent.

SRC director David Lonsdale said: “August witnessed a further uptick in Scottish retail sales compared to the admittedly sombre comparable month last year, albeit the performance was softer than earlier in the summer and much of the momentum dissipated.

“The ending of physical distancing and removal of the cap on numbers allowed in-store a third of the way through the month failed to bring the anticipated boost, with retail sales still languishing almost a tenth below pre-pandemic levels.”

He noted that fashion categories such as clothing, footwear and cosmetics were “standout performers”, bolstered by the return of socialising and occasions such as weddings, along with staycations, decent weather and the return to school.

However, other non-food categories saw sales wane, especially the likes of furniture, white goods and electricals.

Lonsdale added: “These figures are somewhat discomforting as we hurtle towards what is traditionally the crucial golden quarter of shopping in the lead up to Christmas, when many stores generate the revenues required to tide them through the leaner months early in the new year.

“Much of the industry continues to suffer from a protracted weakness in demand, particularly those more reliant on the hustle and bustle of traditionally high footfall locations in our city centres.

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“The pressure on retailers to deliver a strong Christmas performance will only become more acute if a sustained increase in demand isn’t seen soon.”

The figures were released after a report from the Scottish Grocers Federation (SGF) showed that while the number of convenience stores north of the Border has stayed broadly the same during the pandemic (5,037), there has been a loss of 5,000 jobs, with the number of people employed in the sector dropping to about 42,000.

SGF chief executive Pete Cheema said: “Convenience stores have played a huge part in supporting customers and communities through the pandemic.

Retailers have been determined to stay open but this has meant that jobs have been lost. If there has been a positive outcome of the pandemic it is that people in Scotland have embraced shopping locally and we can see that spending in convenience stores has increased markedly.

“Convenience stores are in a unique position to support customers and communities and this has grown during the pandemic.”

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Scottish retailers have 'longer wait in store' as summer sales rebound cools

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