Scottish Retail Sales Monitor

Non-Food Still Behind Pre-Crisis Levels

Ewan MacDonald Russell, Head of Policy & External Affairs, Scottish Retail Consortium:

“The decline in retail sales in March was much less steep compared to recent months, albeit still fell by nearly 14 per cent compared with the truer comparable trading period in 2019. It’s hardly surprising sales were down with most shops shut for the crucial run up to Easter, but there were some encouraging signs that shoppers are preparing to resume shopping when the lockdowns finally end.

“Food sales were very high in March, but that’s in part due to Easter spending falling in the comparable April in 2019. The continued shuttering of eateries last month also flattered the figures. Nonetheless, despite households being unable to meet, it appears consumers continue to splash out on the usual domestic Easter meal, with Easter eggs selling very strongly. Non-food sales continue to be weak, but strong online sales of children’s clothes in response to schools reopening indicate there may be better news ahead when people can leave their homes for non-essential reasons.

“As we move further into the year the two big questions will be whether retail sales bounce back due to pent up demand with the end of lockdown, and where that uplift in retail sales is sustained rather than merely temporary. So far this year the majority of non-food sales have taken place online – if that doesn’t change and people don’t return to the shops it will pose very significant questions for the future of physical retail stores, and in turn for the state of our retail destinations, local communities and tax revenues from business rates. That’s something politicians of all parties will have to grapple with once the current election is over.”

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

“March 2020 was a month that we’re unlikely to ever experience again, with panic buying followed by store closures and a collapse in sales. With that in mind, our comparison on a two-yearly basis provides us with more of an accurate idea of how well Scotland’s High Street is performing. With total sales down almost 14%, it’s clear that there is a long and potentially very challenging road ahead. However, it’s reassuring to note that this is a significant improvement from the 23.7% decline in February. The next few months will be make or break for many retailers as restrictions ease and consumer confidence hopefully returns.

“Non-food sales have really struggled throughout the pandemic, with UK retailers in that space taking a staggering £27 billion hit. The sector has witnessed a combination of devastating factors many accelerated by the pandemic, leading to frequent changes in regulations and costly new rules on creating ‘covid-secure’ retail spaces, and a gradual transformation in consumer attitudes to shopping, with online now completely dominant. There may be light at the end of the tunnel but any recovery and potential post-pandemic boom period could be too little too late for some.”


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