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Shopper footfall decline ‘dreich’ for Scottish retailers, industry warns

Shopper numbers in Scotland have slumped by 15% compared to pre-pandemic levels, new figures show.

The data for November also shows the number of people visiting shopping centres was down by more than a quarter (27.6%) compared to the same month in 2019.

With November usually a busy period for retailers in the run-up to Christmas, industry leaders branded the figures – from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) – “dreich and worrying”.

The 15% decline in footfall in Scotland compared to 2019 levels is worse than the UK-wide drop of 13.3%.

The latest SRC-Sensormatic IQ data also shows shopper numbers in Glasgow in November were 12.7% lower than they were in the same month of 2019.

But in comparison to last year’s figures, overall footfall levels in Scotland increased by 15.9%, while the numbers visiting shopping centres was up 23.0%.

Footfall in Glasgow was up 11.8% compared to last year.

Christmas shopping
The figures show a decline in comparison to 2019 (Aaron Chown/PA)

David Lonsdale, director of the SRC, said shopper football at Scotland’s retail centres “shrivelled” last month in contrast with the same period prior to the pandemic.

He said: “Visits to stores were 15% down on pre-pandemic trading, the weakest performance since March, led by large falls in visits to shopping centres.

“This will disappoint retailers who were hoping for a lift during what is traditionally the second busiest trading month of the year.

“Footfall in Glasgow fell pretty much in line with the rest of Scotland, however the dip in Edinburgh was negligible as the city outperformed elsewhere but remained almost a 10th below 2019 levels.

“These are dreich and worrying figures for Scotland’s retailers, many of whom are hoping for a good Christmas to help weather ever increasing costs and tide them over the traditionally leaner months early in the new year.

“It reinforces the need for Government to prioritise supporting the industry in the upcoming Scottish budget by committing to at least freeze business rates for next year, whilst thinking twice about regulatory policies which would add cost or curtail investment in the industry, including the recently announced changes to the planning system.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at Sensormatic Solutions, said the Black Friday sales had provided a welcome boost to sales.

Black Friday shoppers
Black Friday was not as bleak as some retailers feared, experts said (PA)

He added: “As retailers readied themselves for the start of peak trading ‘proper’, concerns that the rising cost of living could take the shine off retailers’ Black Friday efforts proved unfounded.

“A far cry from the ‘bleak Friday’ some feared, the discounting event providing a welcome boost to footfall performance, with shopper counts surpassing 2021 levels.

“Retailers will be hoping this signposts a resilience in consumer demand, even in the context of rising prices and squeezed household budgets, as they head into the critical December Christmas trading period.”

Public finance minister Tom Arthur said: “The Scottish Government recognises the enormous pressures facing businesses during the current crisis and has been engaging, directly and through key business organisations, to best understand their needs and will continue to do so.

“The Scottish budget 2022-23 delivered the lowest poundage in the UK for the fourth year in a row, ensuring that over 95% of non-domestic properties continue to be liable for a lower property tax rate than anywhere else in the UK.

“Proposals in the draft national planning framework four have the potential to reinvigorate and support investment in city, town and neighbourhood centres and we will work with organisations, including planning authorities and businesses, to achieve this.”