Scottish Retail Sales Monitor

Blue Christmas ends worst year for Scottish retail sales

David Lonsdale, Director, Scottish Retail Consortium:

“Scotland’s retailers are in the depths of the biggest crisis in two decades after the worst ever December trading. Retail sales fell in real terms by 15 percent, the worst since June, as lockdowns at the start and end of the month snuffed out hopes of a late rally to end the year.

“Food sales remained positive but recorded their second weakest monthly performance since the Spring, underwhelming considering the lack of competition from eateries. Non-food sales from stores slumped dramatically, by over a third compared to the same period the previous year. Closed stores for much of the month coupled with the loss of the post-Christmas discounting period clobbered non-food shops, removing the final chance for them to tempt customers and shift unsold stock. Online sales fared well and blunted the decline somewhat for non-food categories. It was a Blue Christmas for retail – and with shopkeepers missing out on much of the golden trading quarter the pressure on those businesses is reaching boiling point.

“It isn’t just down to weak Christmas trading. Across 2020 sales fell massively – far and away the worst figures SRC has reported during twenty two years of the survey. This fall can be clearly attributed to the repeated lockdowns and weak economy; and the bleaker picture compared to the UK as a whole shows how retail has suffered from longer lasting lockdowns and restrictions. Tough restrictions may be right to tackle Covid – but need to be matched with support for the industry – and so a firm commitment in the Scottish Budget to further business rates relief is a must. Ministers need to look hard at how they can lift the burden on an industry which has been reduced to its knees by the current crisis, as even when we emerge from lockdown shops will be unable to trade at capacity due to physical distancing and caps on shoppers in stores.”

Paul Martin, Partner, UK Head of Retail, KPMG:

“It would be an understatement to describe December’s figures are potentially devastating for the industry. The final run-up to Christmas offered Scotland’s High Streets the opportunity to regain some lost ground, but our data suggests sales stuttered throughout the month, before falling sharply in the final few days and weeks of December. Increasing Covid cases, ongoing restrictions and a tightening of rules on social gatherings appear to have seriously dented any prospects of short-term recovery.

“Throughout 2020, non-food retailers bore the brunt of the pandemic and December’s figures reinforce that fact, with year-on-year sales down more than 33% - the worst result since June. 2021 will undoubtedly be one of the most challenging years ever for Scotland’s retail sector, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the businesses with adequate cash flow and a focus on adapting alongside evolving consumer behaviour. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we can at least hold on to some cautious optimism that a vaccine rollout may result in a gradual increase in consumer spending and footfall.” 


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