'Years before Scotland’s retail sector returns to growth' as non-food sales plunge

Retail industry leaders have branded a plunge in non-food sales such as clothing, footwear and beauty as an “enormous concern” as retailers enter the final countdown to Christmas.

An almost empty Buchanan Street in the centre of Glasgow as people observe the spring lockdown. Non-essential stores were closed again more recently under level four restrictions, hammering trade. Picture: John Devlin
An almost empty Buchanan Street in the centre of Glasgow as people observe the spring lockdown. Non-essential stores were closed again more recently under level four restrictions, hammering trade. Picture: John Devlin

Total sales in Scotland fell by 10.2 per cent last month compared with November 2019 as swathes of the country saw “non-essential” retailers shut their doors amid level four Covid restrictions.

The latest sales monitor from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and KPMG showed that while total food sales were up 4.8 per cent, total non-food sales plunged 22.8 per cent.

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Adjusted for deflation, the decrease in overall sales last month was 8.4 per cent.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy and external affairs at the SRC, said: “Scottish retail sales plummeted in November as retailers were hammered by the level four lockdowns.

“Overall sales fell by 8.4 per cent in real terms; but it was non-food stores which truly suffered with sales falling by more than a fifth.

“Clothing, footwear, and beauty all continued to struggle, which is an enormous concern during the traditional golden shopping period of the year for non-food stores.”

The report showed that food sales accelerated for the third consecutive month as hospitality businesses either closed or opened for reduced hours with alcohol sales banned.

Christmas decorations saw record sales as customers looked to “offset bleak lockdowns with light and colour”, MacDonald-Russell noted.

“We also saw signs customers were buying festive gifts early, albeit where necessary from grocery and digital retailers as physical shops were closed across 11 local authorities,” he added.

Paul Martin, partner, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “November’s data reflects the near-daily fight for survival facing many of Scotland’s retailers.

“Ongoing localised lockdowns, including Scotland’s biggest retail centre, Glasgow, has hit the sector at a time when it usually reaps the rewards from a pre-Christmas sales surge.

“To some extent, we’re witnessing a tale of two halves, with food sales continuing to perform relatively well, buoyed by the news that families can meet for Christmas, and the closure of hospitality venues, which appears to have created a short wave of stockpiling.

“However, with non-food takings slumping to a decline of more than 22 per cent, it’s clear the industry is far from any sign of recovery.

“Naturally, a vaccination rollout programme should slowly deliver a return to some form of normality in 2021, but it could be years before Scotland’s retail sector returns to stability and growth.”

MacDonald-Russell added: “For many retailers it’s all going to come down to December trading; and in west and central Scotland the last 14 days running up to Christmas.

“One in eight pounds is traditionally spent in December, so there will be opportunities for stores to attract customers.

“However, unless we see a big change from the last ten months of falling sales and declining footfall, it’s going to be very difficult for a lot of businesses in January.

“With that in mind, early clarity on business rates relief and a commitment to a high street voucher to stimulate some spending would be very welcome from Scottish ministers in the near future.”

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