Footfall in Scottish retailers last month was down by a fifth on the same period pre-pandemic as the country saw the biggest drop in shoppers in the UK outside of London.
Footfall in Scotland dropped by 19.9% in September compared to the same month in 2019, compared to the UK average decline of 16.8%.
In shopping centres only, the drop was 30% in September in Scotland, according to figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and retail analysis platform Sensormatic IQ.
Industry bosses have expressed concern over the “stark figures”, with the “sustained weakness” in shoppers on high streets a worrying sign before the festival period.
The September figures represent a “tepid” 1.3 percentage point increase since August and come despite September being the first full month since physical distancing restrictions were lifted in Scottish stores.
SRC director David Lonsdale said: “September saw a tepid third consecutive monthly improvement for shopper footfall as customers continued to gradually return to Scotland’s high streets.
“That said, retailers will be disappointed to see figures continuing to languish a fifth down on pre-pandemic levels, with Scotland once again the weakest part of the UK outwith London.
“This sustained weakness is especially unnerving coming as it does ahead of the crucial festive trading period, when many shops have to generate the revenues which will tide them over the leaner winter months.
North west England saw the smallest decrease compared with September 2019, with an 11.1% drop, while London saw the largest with a 26.3% drop.
In Wales the figure was 16.2% and in England overall it was 16.7%.
Mr Lonsdale continued: “Policy-makers have taken welcome steps to loosen stultifying Covid restrictions, while stores themselves are providing a welcome and safe shopping experience and a wide range of products with enticing offers.
“However, these stark figures lend urgency to the need for concerted action to bring energy and footfall back into our city centre retail destinations – action which for the moment at least feels like the proverbial hole in a Polo Mint, missing.”
Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, said: “We saw a slight slowdown in September’s footfall recovery, which was particularly marked in the second half of the month as fears of fuel shortages prompted consumers to limit shopping journeys to essential trips.
“However, while we saw a levelling off in shopper traffic counts last month, September still represented the highest recovery point compared to pre-pandemic levels yet this year, pointing to a steady, albeit marginal, upward trajectory even in spite of supply chain disruption and petrol shortages at the pumps.”
He added countries such as France and Germany were experiencing footfall down by over a third, suggesting the “UK’s footfall recovery is far from tanking”.