Non-food retail sales in Scotland still behind pre-crisis levels



Total retail sales in Scotland decreased by 13.8% in March, compared to 2019 when they had increased by 0.3%, according to the latest Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and KPMG figures.

Given the impact of the pandemic, all 2021 figures are compared with 2019 to give a fairer baseline.

Scottish sales decreased by 11.5% on a two-year like-for-like basis compared with March 2019, when they had decreased by 0.2%.

Total food sales increased 19.7% on a two-year basis versus March 2019, when they had decreased by 0.2%.

Total non-food sales decreased by 49.2% in March on a two-year basis compared to March 2019, when they had increased by 0.7%.

Adjusted for the estimated effect of online sales, total non-food sales decreased by 10.5% in March versus March 2019, when they had increased by 1.3%.

Ewan MacDonald Russell, head of policy and external affairs at the SRC, said that the decline in retail sales in March was much less steep compared to recent months, albeit still fell by nearly 14% compared with the truer comparable trading period in 2019.

“Food sales were very high in March, but that’s in part due to Easter spending falling in the comparable April in 2019.

“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.

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“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.”

Responding to yesterday’s confirmation of relaxed restrictions on retail and hospitality businesses from 26 April, SRC director David Lonsdale commented: “Now they have the certainty they have been craving, retailers can now crack on, communicate with their workforces, suppliers, and shoppers, and get back from Monday to doing what they do best; serving their customers.

“The retail industry stands ready to play its part in getting the Scottish economy moving again, after a torrid thirteen months which has seen retail sales crumble, shopper footfall collapse, and shop vacancies spike to a six-year high.

“Non-essential stores in Scotland have been closed for the majority of the period, and we estimate they lost out on £4 billion of retail sales during the first 12 months of the pandemic.”

Paul Martin, Partner, UK head of retail at KPMG, agreed that 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 £27bn 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.

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“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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