The number of people going into shops in Scotland has decreased by almost a quarter compared to pre-pandemic levels, new data shows.
During what is usually the busiest time of the year for retail, Scottish footfall fell by 22.8% in December compared to the same month in 2019, and was 3% down on November.
The figure, which is a larger decline than the British average over two years of 18.6%, means Scotland saw the deepest decrease in footfall out of the four UK nations for the fifth consecutive month.
The data was released by trade association the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), which compared all of 2021’s figures with pre-pandemic data in 2019.
The recent data also revealed shopping centre footfall in Scotland declined by 31.9% in December, down from -28.0% in November.
In Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, footfall in December decreased by 21.8% compared to the same time of year in 2019.
The figures were published as Scotland recorded its one millionth coronavirus case since the start of the pandemic.
Earlier this week, the country saw a record number of cases, with 20,217 infections reported in just one day.
David Lonsdale, SRC director, said the Scottish Government’s guidance to work from home and socialise less in the run-up to Christmas, coupled with the reintroduction of physical distancing in stores in light of rising Covid case numbers, took a “heavy toll” on the retail sector.
He said: “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.
“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.”
Andy Sumpter, of data group Sensormatic Solutions which helped compile the figures, said the rapid spread of Omicron dealt a blow to shopper confidence.
He added: “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.”
In response to the data, Scottish Conservative finance and economy spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “Scotland’s retail sector is continuing to be severely impacted by the effects of the Covid pandemic. Restrictions and guidance from the SNP Government in the run-up to Christmas deprived shops of a much needed boost.
“With the drop in footfall in Scotland continuing to be the worst in the United Kingdom, retailers urgently need a shot in the arm from the SNP Government.
“(Scottish Finance Secretary) Kate Forbes’s draft budget simply doesn’t go far enough in accelerating their recovery.
“The Scottish Conservatives will continue to urge the SNP to pass on 75% rates relief for the sector for the whole of next year.
“The SNP have a record budget at their disposal from the UK Government and it is critical that this is passed on to businesses urgently.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are all too aware of the impact that Covid-19 has had, and continues to have, on business and the Scottish economy.
“That is why, to date, we have spent almost half-a-billion pounds more in support of businesses than the funding we received from the UK Government for that purpose.
“Since the start of the pandemic, businesses have benefited from more than £4.4bn in support from the Scottish Government. Covid non-domestic rates reliefs have saved businesses, including in the retail sector, around £1.6bn since April 1 2020.
“We have announced a £375m support package for businesses and have had to make difficult decisions to target funding to sectors most immediately impacted by the updated public health guidance.
“Decisions on the allocation of the remaining funds will be confirmed following further analysis and consultation with affected sectors on how it can best be targeted.
“We have been the only government in the UK to offer 100% Covid-19 rates relief for the past two years without any cap and we are preventing a cliff-edge return to full liability for businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors on March 31, 2022, by continuing relief at 50% for the first three months of 2022/23.”