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

Scottish town and city centres have been largely deserted since lockdown kicked in later in March. Picture: John DevlinScottish town and city centres have been largely deserted since lockdown kicked in later in March. Picture: John Devlin
Scottish town and city centres have been largely deserted since lockdown kicked in later in March. Picture: John Devlin | JPIMedia
Scotland’s retail sector has suffered a “shocking” month with sales falling at the sharpest rate in at least 21 years, figures today reveal.

Total sales fell by 13 per cent last month compared with March 2019, when they had slipped 3.7 per cent, according to the latest retail sales monitor from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and KPMG.

This is the worst outcome recorded by the monitor since its inception in January 1999 and below the three-month and 12-month average declines of 4.4 per cent and 1.6 per cent respectively.

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The SRC said it had been “a month of two halves”, before and after the lockdown, with growth of 9 per cent in the first three weeks of March, followed by a decline of 44 per cent in the last two weeks of the period, covering the 1 March to 4 April.

On a like-for-like basis, sales decreased by 14.5 per cent on a like-for-like basis, compared with a year earlier. While there was a rise in food sales during the month, non-food sales sank by more than a third.

Ewan MacDonald Russell, head of policy and external affairs at the SRC, described the figures as “truly dismal”.

He said: “The worst overall retail sales performance ever. The worst non-food sales ever. The worst fashion and footwear sales ever. March was nothing less than a shocker on Scotland’s high streets.

“Retail has gone through the most difficult month in a generation. Many businesses are closed, whilst those who remain trading are doing so in incredibly hard circumstances.

“Enormous investment has been made at pace to protect colleagues and customers, to maintain supply chains, and to expand online capacity to help those who need it. In this period retail workers have worked incredibly hard to continue to provide the vital goods families require.

“Throughout the last month the Scottish and UK governments have made unprecedented fiscal interventions to support the economy. Those vital and welcome schemes, including rates relief, worker support, and grants, are keeping many retailers afloat.”

“Hopefully that will ensure our industry can play its part in getting the economy back on its feet when the time is right.”

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Paul Martin, partner and UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “Following an already incredibly challenging 12 months for Scotland’s retail sector, it’s impossible to underestimate the impact the coronavirus pandemic is now having on the industry, with total sales down 13 per cent.

“Scotland’s high streets are largely closed and there’s no short-term end in sight with lockdown likely to continue throughout May.

“With thousands of workers furloughed or facing redundancy and cash flow and liquidity becoming an immediate issue, retailers now need to explore what urgent measures they can take today to ensure they secure their place in a potentially very different future retail sector.”

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