Comment:Festive footfall hints at positive trading

Kristy Dorsey. Picture: Robert Perry
Kristy Dorsey. Picture: Robert Perry
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ORGANISED folk have been on it since October, and are now at home smugly wrapping gifts purchased in composed consideration. For many, however, the festive shopping season is reaching full swing.

Anyone with a passing interest in retail knows this trading period is crucial to the industry, but a glance at the historical trend drives the point home.

Sales in January are usually terrible, but start rising through summer to a peak in September. After a further lull, they then jump by an average of about 60 per cent to their yearly apex in December. It’s a pattern that has been repeated for years stretching back well before the onset of the financial crisis.

A hint as to how this season is shaping up comes this week when the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) releases its latest retail sales monitor for November.

The monthly survey, administered by accountancy heavyweight KPMG, measures the value of all sales except for fuel.

If the footfall numbers put out last week by the SRC are anything to go by, then this week’s spending figures should make for pleasant reading.

During November, shoppers in Scotland headed out in increasing numbers, the fifth month in a row they have done so.

At the same time, footfall in nearly every other part of the UK fell, and yet the total value of sales in the UK rose by 2.2 per cent.

Logic suggests that Scotland got a disproportionate share of that spending increase.

But getting people through the doors doesn’t necessarily mean they will part with their cash. That was the case in October – when the value of Scottish sales fell by 1.2 per cent – and in September, when they toppled by the sharpest pace since records began in 1999.

The culprits in the September crash were that month’s unseasonably warm weather and the independence referendum, which was blamed for casting “a shadow over the spending of the Scottish consumer”.

But if they weren’t spending, what enticed these people to get out and about?

Footfall numbers in Scotland have been on the up since July, a trend that has not been replicated elsewhere in the UK.

One possible answer comes from Diane Wherle, a director at Springboard, the market research firm that produces the footfall survey in conjunction with the SRC.

High streets across the UK have suffered from declining patronage, yet footfall numbers in Scotland are on the up, outpacing out-of-town destinations and shopping centres. Wherle believes the run-up to the independence referendum sparked a sort of “neighbourhood patriotism” among consumers who are increasingly inclined to support their local shops and communities.

If so, it’s something that those working to revive our town centres could exploit and build upon. It would be an unexpected yet welcome legacy from the independence debate. «