No recovery in sight for retail as sales continue to decline

Glasgow Shoppers

Trade is hovering about six per cent down from its pre-Covid level.

SEPTEMBER was the eighth month in a row of declining retail sales, with them falling by 6% overall.

Sales recovery appears to have stabilised at this level, as overall sales performance has remained relatively unchanged over the last several months.

The SRC-KPMG Scottish Retail Sales Monitor shows September’s trend was only slightly above the three-month average of minus 7.2%, and above the longer-term twelve-month average of minus 9.9%.

The Scottish Retail Consortium said this clearly demonstrates the challenges facing Scottish retail, as it has not been able to improve its position in line with the positive wider UK trend.

The split between food and non-food grew further, food growth accelerated to 3.7% and the decline in non-food steepened to 2.2%, once the effects of online sales were accounted for.

Within non-food, the continued effect of the coronavirus crisis saw no signs of abating, as fashion categories continued to suffer significantly, as consumer attention remains focused on home centric purchases.

Covering the five weeks from 30 August – 3 October:

  • Scottish sales decreased by 6.3% on a like-for-like basis compared with September 2019, when they decreased by 1.8%. This is above the three-month average decrease of 7.5% and the 12-month average decrease of 8.9%.
  • Total sales in Scotland decreased by 6.0% compared with September 2019, when they decreased by 1.2%. This was above the three-month average decline of 7.2% and the 12 month average decline of 9.9%. Adjusted for deflation, the decrease was 4.4%.
  • Total food sales increased 3.7% versus September 2019, when they had increased by 2.2%. This was above the three-month average growth of 3.0% and the 12-month average growth of 3.4%. The three-month average was below the UK level of 5.6%, while the 12-month average was below the UK’s levels of 3.8%.
  • Total non-food sales decreased by 14.2% in September compared to September 2019, when they had decreased by 4.0%. This was above the three-month average decline of 15.7% and the 12-month average decline of 20.8%.
  • Adjusted for the estimated effect of online sales, total non-food sales decreased by 2.2% in September versus September 2019, when they had decreased by 3.9%. This is above the three-month average decline of 3.0% and the 12-month average decline of 12.2%. Those are lower than the UK’s three month average growth of 3.2% and 12 month total average decline of 5.0% respectively.

KPMG head of retail Paul Martin said: “Whilst September’s figures paint a slightly less bleak picture for Scotland’s High Streets, the challenges facing retailers show little signs of abating.

“Total year-on-year sales were down 6.0%, which is a modest improvement from August’s 7.5% drop.

“However, with the resurgence of stricter lockdown rules and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, consumer confidence remains low.

“Within specific categories, it’s clear that consumer expenditure has continued to shift away from non-retailing categories like travel and leisure, whilst the focus remains on food, furniture and electronic goods.

“Elsewhere, non-food and fashion & footwear retailers suffered a month of woeful performance, with demand seen only for children’s clothing, in a period in which outfits for seasonal events should usually have been purchased.

“Shoppers are certainly being less impulsive and far more targeted with how and where they choose to buy goods, given current uncertainties and economic concerns.

“As we enter the crucial ‘golden quarter’ period – when many retailers make the majority of their revenue – Scotland’s retailers will be fighting for survival and recovery.”

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy and external affairs at the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Another month of disappointing sales confirms Scottish retail is nowhere near returning to growth.

“A real terms fall of 4.4 percent is the eighth successive month of falling sales and a huge concern to the industry ahead of the crucial Christmas trading period.

“Food sales returned to more buoyant growth, correlating with the end of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

“Whilst positive for grocers, there was little evidence of customers stockpiling over the month, instead it appears to be a shift from discretionary to essential spending.

“Non-food sales continue to diverge sharply by category. White goods, household essentials, and electronics continue to perform well, with televisions and gaming boosted by new releases. “Conversely, fashion, footwear, and beauty products continue to perform poorly with customers only buying necessary rather than indulgent products.

“There is also some evidence consumers are already turning to Christmas shopping – presumably to avoid queuing outdoors in the depths of the Scottish winter.

“Overall, the Scottish retail industry is in a fragile condition heading into the golden trading quarter. There are severe headwinds ahead.”

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