The Scottish Retail Consortium said grants and support were urgently needed as Scotland saw the deepest decline in footfall of the four nations before Christmas. The figure, which compares to two years ago, before the pandemic began, was below the UK average decline of 18.6 per cent.
Only London – where the Omicron pandemic showed a worse hit to footfall – saw a bigger drop in footfall.
Shopping centres in Scotland were worst hit, as the number of shoppers plummeted by 31 per cent.
Retailers are set to face increased costs in the first few months of this year, with a rents payment date due at the end of January, the reinstatement of 100 per cent business rates and an uplift in National Insurance contributions in April.
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Shopper footfall in Scotland plummeted further last month, during what would traditionally be the busiest time of the year, as government instructions to work from home and socialise less coupled with the reintroduction of physical distancing in stores exerted a heavy toll.
"Visits to shops in December were down almost a quarter on the comparable period prior to the pandemic, plunging for a second successive month. December saw the weakest monthly figures for store visits since July and the biggest deterioration since June.
"Scottish footfall once again languished behind every other part of the UK other than London.
“It rounded off a profoundly worrying ‘golden quarter’ for Scottish shopkeepers, many of whom traditionally need strong pre-Christmas trading in order to tide them over the fallow winter months.
"It heralds an unnerving start to the new year for many retailers. Scottish ministers must stand ready to support the retail industry further if these conditions are set to persist, through grants for shops as their Welsh counterparts are offering, scrapping the cap on the business rates relief announced in the Budget, or through a high street stimulus scheme like Northern Ireland has implemented.”
Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, which co-authored the report, said: “Concerns about the rapid spread of Omicron dealt a blow to shopper confidence, as consumers self-policed social contacts and limited shopping trips in a bid to save their own Christmases.
"But this will have done little to save the Christmases of retail businesses, effectively stalling the High Street’s recovery in the run up to their most important trading period, with shopper counts across all retail settings receding to the levels seen in the summer, wiping away the slow, but steady footfall recovery and gains we had seen up until the start of November.
“With the booster vaccination programme being delivered at pace and some glimmers of hope that the Omicron wave may be plateauing in some regions, retailers will be hoping that consumers’ cautious optimism returns, and with that a new year’s resolve to continue to support local high streets and bricks-and-mortar stores.”