Scottish retail sales drop by 13%

Scottish retail sales have declined by 13.0% compared with March last year, according to the latest Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and KPMG Scottish Retail Sales Monitor. 

Scottish retail sales drop by 13%

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded in March, Scottish retail sales plummeted to their lowest decline on record since the inception of this monitor in January 1999, at -13.0% on a Total basis.

This is also below the 3m and 12m average declines of 4.4% and 1.6% respectively. Adjusted for deflation, the decrease was 12.2%.

March has been labelled as a month of two halves, pre- and post-lockdown, with growth of 9% in the first three weeks of March, followed by a decline of 44% in the last two.

The first half saw the stockpiling of essentials build up momentum to unprecedented levels. Meanwhile, non-essential products were neglected, unless linked to the preparations for working and schooling from home. Fashion was hit particularly badly.

After the lockdown was announced on 23 March, accompanied by the closure of non-essential stores, both Food and Non-Food experienced declines in the last two weeks of the period.

The store closures hit footfall even to those shops that remained open. Even though online orders surged, they were far from compensating for lost store sales.

According to the Met Office, the mean temperature for March was equal to the long-term average for Scotland. Rainfall was 88% of average and was mainly near or just above normal in the west and below normal in the east. Sunshine was 110% of average, and was generally above normal in the east, the far north and the Western Isles, but mostly near normal in other western areas.

Total Food sales increased 12.1% versus March 2019, when they had decreased by 1.3%. This is above the 3-month and 12-month averages of 6.1% and 3.5% respectively. The 3- month and 12-month averages remained above the UK’s levels of 5.1% and 2.4% respectively.

Total Non-Food sales decreased by 33.6% in March compared to March 2019, when they had decreased by 5.6%. This was the worst ever recorded by this monitor and is below the 3- month and 12-month average declines of 13.0% and 5.7% respectively.

Paul Martin, head of retail at KPMG UK, said: “Following an already incredibly challenging twelve months for Scotland’s retail sector, it’s impossible to underestimate the impact the Coronavirus pandemic is now having on the industry, with total sales down 13%. The sharp divide between food – up 12.1% - and non-food sales – down 33.6% - also reinforces the scale of the problem ahead for many of the country’s best known brands.

“Even taking into account the estimated boost to online sales, non-food decreased by 27.9% overall, reflecting the most significant drops we’ve ever reported since our Retail Sales Monitor was launched in 1995.

“Scotland’s High Streets are largely closed and there’s no short-term end in sight with lockdown likely to continue throughout May. With thousands of workers furloughed or facing redundancy and cash flow and liquidity becoming an immediate issue, retailers now need to explore what urgent measures they can take today to ensure they secure their place in a potentially very different future retail sector.

“However, the industry is resilient. It’s been through many challenges in the past and it’s now playing a key role in helping to keep the country supplied and fed through a crisis. With the right measures and innovative thinking, Scotland’s retail sector will continue to play a crucial role in the success of the national economy.”

  • Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.
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