Retail sales well down compared to pre-pandemic levels, figures show

Total food sales in December climbed by almost five percent.

Retail sales well down compared to pre-pandemic levels, figures show iStock

Food stores were the winners at Christmas as grocery spend increased, but the state of the Scottish high street is still grim – with sales well down compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Total food sales in December climbed by almost five percent as Scots showed their determination to enjoy the winter break.

Yet research from the Scottish Retail Consortium revealed retail overall continued to perform well below pre-pandemic levels, with sales down 13% compared to December 2019.

David Lonsdale, director of the consortium, said last month was a mixed bag for traders, on the one hand beating 2020’s “dismal figures” but, on the other, falling significantly short compared to the year before.

“Grocery was a bright spot, as were purchases of Christmas decorations, as get-togethers of family and friends over the festive period returned and as Scots ate out less following fresh public health instructions,” he said.

“Christmas-related gifting did well, especially beauty and fragrances, sales of smaller electrical goods, and leisurewear. The cancellation of Christmas parties and social activities snuffed out the nascent growth in more formalwear seen in the early part of the month.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said that, despite the rise compared to 2020, the coronavirus surge and the following restrictions imposed by the Scottish Government will have slowed spending during the final few weeks.

“While December’s figures are still behind pre-pandemic levels, they do show a marked improvement on the previous year,” said Martin.

“Food sales in particular were the stand-out performer during the festive period, with sales growing 1.2% compared to December 2020 and 4.5% compared to the same month in 2019.”

The figures from the retail consortium showed that total non-food sales increased by 27.7% in December, compared to 2020 when they had slumped by 33.4%.

But, despite the festive surge, total non-food sales declined by 27.7% compared to the Christmas before.

Total sales in Scotland increased by 15.6% compared with December 2020, when they had fallen by 16.6%, but on a two-year basis sales were down 13%.

Lonsdale said Government advice for people to work from home and minimise socialising had a “chilling effect on retail sales”.

“The recovery of sorts in Scottish retail sales has been stymied for several months now and remains more sluggish and persistently weaker than across the UK as a whole,” he said.

“Last month’s trading rounded off a tough final quarter of the year for the industry in Scotland, which is concerning.

“It reinforces the urgent need for a retail recovery plan from Government; more certainty over the future easing of Covid restrictions, including the rescinding of the work from home order; grants for shops as Wales is offering; and a short-term shopper stimulus plan.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are all too aware of the impact the Covid pandemic has had – and continues to have – on retailers and on the economy.

“Since the start of the pandemic, businesses including retailers have benefited from more than £4.4bn in support from the Scottish Government and our non-domestic rates reliefs have saved businesses, including in the retail sector, around £1.6bn since April 1 2020.

“Through the combined impact of the upcoming retail strategy, City Centre Recovery Taskforce and the £10m Scotland Loves Local programme, we are helping our town and city centres and local communities recover.”

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