Coronavirus: Worst retail sales in Scotland as Covid-19 takes hold


Buchanan Street in Glasgow

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Scotland’s major shopping streets have seen a sharp drop in footfall since the lockdown began

Scotland has recorded its worst retail sales figures as the industry struggles to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Total sales dropped by 13% in comparison with March 2019, when they decreased by 3.7%, according to the SRC-KPMG retail sales monitor.

It is the lowest figure recorded since the monitor began in January 1999.

Scotland’s chief economist has warned that GDP faces an “unprecedented” drop of as much as 33% due to the impact of the virus.

Even when adjusted for deflation, the decrease is 12.2%.

‘Truly dismal figures’

Ewan MacDonald Russell, the Scottish Retail Consortium’s head of policy and external affairs, said “March was nothing less than a shocker on Scotland’s high streets” following the government lockdown.

“These are truly dismal figures, which expose just how hard retail has been hammered by coronavirus.

“The worst overall retail sales performance ever. The worst non-food sales ever. The worst fashion and footwear sales ever.”

He added: “Beneath the headline figures is a tale of extreme polarisation.”

He said the first three weeks of the trading period had seen unprecedented levels of grocery shopping, with household staples being stockpiled before sales fell back into negative territory in the last two weeks.

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Across the month, office supplies, toys and games, health and hygiene products, and fridges and freezers all saw significant growth as customers adapted homes for lockdown.

“Conversely, the bad news was truly rotten,” he said. “Fashion and footwear sales collapsed. Large-item sales crumbled as consumer confidence fell sharply.

“Across the board consumers appear to be reducing spending as they adapt to these new circumstances and economic concerns.”

  • Pre-lockdown, the monitor recorded a 9% growth in the first three weeks of March
  • This was followed by a decline of 44% in the last two weeks of that period
  • Scottish sales decreased by 14.5% on a like-for-like basis compared with March 2019, a four-week month when they decreased by 4.1%.
  • Total food sales were up 12.1% against the previous year while total non-food sales were 33.6% down compared with March 2019 when they were down 5.6%.
  • Adjusted for the estimated effect of online sales, total non-food sales decreased by 27.9%

The Scottish government advice during the Covid-19 outbreak has warned people to only leave their homes for essential shopping trips or exercise.

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Numerous packages of support have been introduced to help businesses cope with the pressures brought on by having to close until it is deemed safe to reopen.

Vital goods

Mr MacDonald Russell said: “Retail has gone through the most difficult month in a generation.

“Many businesses are closed, whilst those who remain trading are doing so in incredibly hard circumstances.”

He added that retail workers had worked incredibly hard to continue to provide the vital goods families needed.

He said schemes set up by the Scottish and UK governments in the last month – including rates relief, worker support, and grants – were keeping many retailers afloat.

“Hopefully that will ensure our industry can play its part in getting the economy back on its feet when the time is right,” he added.



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