Less than one in ten shops in Scotland are lying empty, while the number of shoppers on Scottish high streets rose in April, bucking the UK trend, new figures have revealed.
The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said footfall rose 0.7 per cent last month, while the number of vacant shops dropped to 9.8 per cent in April, down from 12 per cent in January and below the British average.
However, experts said the fact that Easter fell in April this year and March last year could have affected footfall, while the full effects of store closure programmes such as that planned at struggling department store chain Debenhams could affect future vacancy rates.
A recent report from the Local Data Company also revealed that more retail outlets are being repurposed to become offices, homes and leisure businesses, taking them off the vacancy lists.
David Lonsdale, director of the SRC, said: "This is a more favourable set of results. The resumption of growth in shopper footfall after nine months of decline is positive, and bodes well ahead of the publication of our retail sales data for April. The challenge will be for retailers to convert that into an enhanced performance at tills, and it appears those retail destinations which benefited from rising footfall were the ones which offered consumers a 'day-out' experience when shopping.
"The improvement in the shop vacancy rate in our town centres is similarly encouraging, and ended a run of four quarters in which the rate was in double figures. That said, one in every ten shops remains empty."
He added: "Hopefully these more upbeat figures won't prove short-lived. This is a period of significant tumult for the retail industry, with profound changes in shopping habits at a time of weak demand and rising cost pressures. These changes show few signs of abating."
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, which co-authored the report, said: "There is an obvious distortion in the year on year footfall results for April due to the early Easter in March last year. Whilst across the UK the expected bounty in April was not sufficient to deliver positive figures, in Scotland the outcome was slightly more heartening with a rise in footfall of 0.7 per cent. This is reflected in Scotland's vacancy rate which at 9.8 per cent is lower than both the UK rate of 10.2 per cent and Scotland's rate of 11.2 per cent in April 2018."
"Even more encouraging was a rise in footfall in Scotland's high streets of 1.8 per cent, only the fourth month over the past two years to deliver an increase, although in Scotland's shopping centres footfall declined by a further 1.6 per cent from last year. On a more positive note, the one per cent increase in footfall in Scotland's retail parks in April was the first for five months and indicates that the tradition of spending time and money on our homes and gardens during Spring endures."
She said that the difference in the timing of Easter between 2019 and 2018 meant that Scotland's footfall was still at a lower level than in April 2017.
She added: "The superb weather over Easter clearly delivered a boost to coastal towns and historic cities across the UK which are magnets for domestic and overseas tourists."