A decrease in the number of people visiting stores in Scotland throughout March has led to pleas from experts for swift action to generate footfall.
Figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) showed that footfall in Scotland’s shops dropped by 21.1% in March – 0.5 percentage points better than the performance in February.
However, the number is worse than the UK average decline of 15.4%, with Scotland again seeing the steepest decline in footfall for all nations in the UK.
The number of people in shopping centres declined by 32%, which was an improvement on the decline of 34.7% seen in February.
In Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, footfall decreased by 19.5% in March – 1.3 percentage points better than the previous month.
Due to the pandemic forcing many retail locations to bounce between opening and closing, the SRC data compared March 2022 figures with pre-pandemic data from 2019.
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said there is an “urgent need to bring energy and vision” to the revival of Scotland’s retail and high street destinations.
Mr Lonsdale added that the figures should lead to a “sharper response” from policymakers, pointing out that employment in the sector will only survive with “the patronage of the public”.
“There was a miniscule uptick in shopper footfall last month as Scots only very gradually returned to retail destinations,” Mr Lonsdale said.
“However, the blunt truth is footfall continues to languish a fifth down on pre-pandemic levels. Visits to shopping centres and Glasgow city centre improved a touch, however Scotland as a whole continued to lag other parts of the UK.”
He added: “Scotland’s shops and the thousands of jobs they provide will only survive with the patronage of the public, and questions remain over what demand will look like in the months ahead. As such, these stark figures should lead to a sharper response from policymakers as to the health of our retail destinations.
“There is an urgent need to bring energy and vision to the revival of our retail and high street destinations and actively encourage people to return.”
He added that “promises over recent days” of a return to city centres via a visitor campaign and the cash disbursed to councils to aid city centre recovery “need to be deployed swiftly to help generate the footfall that is so desperately needed”.
Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, pointed to an approaching period of uncertainty for the sector as customers face issues such as price inflation and increased national insurance contributions.
Mr Sumpter said: “As we surpass two years since the first Covid-19 lockdown, we might begin to see where retail footfall trends will settle down as retail resets.
“With the high street’s recovery hitting its best performance since October and UK shopper traffic tracking ahead of its European counterparts, retailers’ optimism will be met with a healthy dose of realism.
“While Covid-19 restrictions may be loosening, despite the extension of the mask-wearing mandate, the nation’s belts may start to tighten as the impact of the cost-of-living squeeze and price inflation accelerates, and the knock-on effect of the energy cap rise and increased national insurance contributions this month remain unknown as they look ahead into April and beyond.
“However, while price sensitivity may be growing among UK consumers, spending and brand loyalty seem to be ‘stickier’ in-store, with our recent research showing over a third were less price sensitive when shopping in-store compared to when they bought items online, and half felt more loyal to the bricks-and-mortar brands they shop with.”