Some signs of life on Scottish high street despite sales falling by a fifth

Scottish high streets suffered a further double-digit slump in sales last month but may be “on a slow path to recovery”, a key report today indicates.

A relatively empty Buchanan Street in Glasgow as people observe the early phases of lockdown in Scotland. Picture: John Devlin

The latest monthly sales monitor from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and KPMG found that total sales were down 18.6 per cent in June, compared with a year earlier.

That followed a 27.6 per cent decline in May, which was an improvement on the record slide of more than 40 per cent recorded in April – the first full month of lockdown.

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Total food sales last month increased by 4 per cent compared to June 2019. Total non-food sales plunged 37.3 per cent as wary consumers shunned big-ticket items such as furniture and white goods, though when adjusted for the estimated effect of online sales the figure was down 19.4 per cent.

David Lonsdale, director at the SRC, said: “Scottish retail sales remained in a funk last month, down by almost a fifth on the same period last year.

“This was the fourth successive month of double-digit decline. Last month’s performance lagged well behind that of the UK as a whole, unsurprising after more than three full months of lockdown.

“June did at least witness an improvement on recent lows, aided by the re-opening of many ‘non-essential’ shops in the final week of the trading period.

“Items which allowed people to carry on working or schooling from home continued to do well, such as laptops and accessories and home electricals.”

He added: “Whilst positive for some retailers, at least in the short term, any prolonged absence of office workers from our city and town centres has portents for stores in those areas who rely on such custom, and who may also have suffered from a loss of tourist traffic and students recently.”

Clothing and footwear were among the areas to fare poorly last month, especially more formal attire and holiday-related items.

Lonsdale added: “Tens of thousands of shops and hundreds of thousands of jobs in retail directly and the supply chain more widely ultimately depend on the ongoing support of the Scottish public.

“That support from shoppers in the coming months will determine the future and vibrancy of our high streets and retail destinations for years to come. Early indications suggest that any retail revival may be slow and gradual.”

Paul Martin, partner and UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “It’s clear the easing of lockdown has failed to kickstart a full recovery in Scotland’s retail sector.

“Despite a positive 4 per cent growth in total food sales, and categories including technology and sports equipment witnessing increasing demand, the overall outlook remains incredibly depressed, particularly for clothing retailers.

“The shift to online sales has helped offset some of the challenges, but the situation remains critical for many of the country’s highest profile brands as well as independent retailers.

"As we slowly enter the final phase in Scotland’s lockdown, we’re confident that conditions will continue to improve, but a concerted, collaborative effort from the industry and political leaders will be essential if we’re to reverse the long-term downward trend and return to sustainable growth in the country’s high streets.”

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Lockdown triggers worst Scottish high street decline on record

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