Scottish retailers enjoy best pandemic-era performance but Covid 'continues to cast a shadow'

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Scottish retailers have notched up their best monthly performance since the onset of the pandemic as the Euro football championships provided a sales fillip but Covid “continues to cast a shadow”, a report today reveals.

Total sales north of the Border fell by 3 per cent last month, on a two-year basis compared with June 2019, when they had decreased by 2.3 per cent, according to the latest sales monitor from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and KPMG

Measured on a like-for-like basis, sales nudged up 1 per cent compared with June 2019. Stores that have closed, are yet to reopen, or are new stores – in the last two years – are not included in the like-for-like sales figures. However, online sales are factored in.

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The move to a two-year comparison from a year-on-year one has been made to provide a more meaningful picture of trading given the rollercoaster ride of Covid lockdowns and restrictions suffered during much of 2020.

Shoppers pictured on Edinburgh's Princes Street. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA WireShoppers pictured on Edinburgh's Princes Street. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Shoppers pictured on Edinburgh's Princes Street. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

David Lonsdale, director, Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Scottish retail sales eked out a further modest improvement in June, the second full month since all shops were permitted to re-open, recording the best monthly performance since the onset of Covid.

“That said, retail sales remained a touch below pre-pandemic levels with the shallowest monthly decline in 16 months, which serves to underline the protracted nature of the industry’s climb back to recovery.

“The European football championships gave a fillip to sales of televisions as well as food and drink, and fashion categories did slightly better than of late driven by the return of some aspects of socialising.

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“That said, Covid continues to cast a shadow. Weak footfall, a lack of foreign holidays and larger gatherings and occasions such as weddings, and the absence of a return to offices, continues to put a dampener on and hold back categories such as formal wear, holiday-related purchase of beachwear and sunscreen, as well as beauty products which often benefit from impulse buying.”

He added: “Looking forward, retailers will be buoyed by the continued success with the vaccination roll-out and the greater re-opening of the economy and easing of restrictions, especially on events and return to offices.”

The latest figures showed that total food sales rose 5.5 per cent on a two-year basis, while total non-food sales decreased by 10.1 per cent, on the same measure.

Adjusted for the estimated effect of online sales, total non-food sales were down 12.8 per cent last month, compared with June 2019, prior to the pandemic.

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Paul Martin, partner and UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “The pandemic isn’t over. Scottish retailers are still contending with restrictions and the absence of many traditional drivers of summer footfall, such as holidays abroad.

“So while the picture improved slightly, the widening gap between food and non-food sales shows many consumers continued to choose home over the high street in June.

“But, in this climate, incremental successes must be welcomed, and this week’s nationwide drop to level zero could push retail sales into growth mode.”

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