Retail chiefs are calling on the Scottish Government to use next week’s Budget to help the struggling sector after new figures showed the number of shoppers visiting stores was down by almost a fifth.
Footfall was 19.8% lower in November than it had been in the same month in 2019 – with Scotland the worst hit of all the four nations of the UK.
Shopping centres were even worse off, with footfall down by more than a quarter (28%) over the same period, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said.
Meanwhile in Glasgow, a flagship city for many retailers, shopper numbers were down by 22.2% compared to November 2019 – the weakest performance of the eleven UK cities surveyed.
The slump in footfall in Scotland’s largest city could, in part, be linked to people avoiding the area during the recent Cop26 climate change summit, which attracted climate change protesters to the area, the SRC said.
With shopper numbers “languishing”, SRC director David Lonsdale urged the Scottish Government to give the sector a Budget boost next week.
Stores in Northern Ireland have seen a “demonstratable uplift” thanks to a government voucher scheme where people were given a £100 card to spend in local “bricks and mortar” stores.
With the Scottish Government having scrapped business rates for the retail sector in 2020-21, Mr Lonsdale also called on ministers to “blunt” any restoration of the charges in the December 9 Budget.
Speaking after the latest SRC-Sensormatic IQ footfall data was published, Mr Lonsdale said: “Visits to Scottish stores dwindled last month when contrasted with the same period prior to the pandemic.
“This was the weakest performance in four months, disappointing retailers who were hoping for a lift during what is traditionally the second busiest trading month of the year.”
He continued: “Shopper visits were down a fifth on the comparable period two years ago, with Scotland again languishing behind every part of the UK other than London.
“Footfall shrivelled across all retail destinations, with the dip in Glasgow more pronounced and the weakest in five months.
“Indeed, Glasgow recorded the weakest performance of the eleven UK cities surveyed, which bore out anecdotal reports from some retailers about the adverse short-term impact on footfall from the transport restrictions and demonstrations associated with hosting Cop26.
“The recent spike in the cost of living has also weighed on household finances.”
Mr Lonsdale said that these “dreich figures are profoundly worrying and come during what could be a make-or-break festive trading period for some firms”.
He noted: “Scots retailers have looked on with increasing envy at their Northern Ireland counterparts who have seen a demonstrable uplift from the introduction there of a high street voucher scheme, which has boosted takings by a reported £100 million in recent weeks.
“Next week’s Scottish Budget needs to supercharge the engine of growth and support the sector over the coming months.
“It’s why the industry is asking for measures to boost consumer sentiment and to blunt the full 100% reinstatement of business rates early next year for all retail premises.”
Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, said: “Usually, in November we’d expect to see a boost to the high street due to Black Friday, which traditionally marks the start of Christmas spending.
“However, whilst we saw footfall rise by a third (+35%) week-on-week, shopper numbers on Black Friday were still down on pre-pandemic levels by about a fifth.”