High Streets Initiative · 14 March 2018

“Beast from the East” hands snowed-in Scottish retailers unexpected sales boost

Retailers benefitted from outdoor clothes sales as shoppers prepared for snowfall

Retail sales in Scotland warmed up last month as shoppers blasted by the Beast from the East snow storms stocked up on extra winter clothes.

According to figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium, total sales increased by 0.7 per cent in February compared with the same month last year when they dropped by 1.9 per cent.

The figures covered the period between the end of January and 24 February before the huge snowfall hit and subsequent disruption to travel and transport.

The SRC said this February’s performance was above the three-month and 12-month averages of 0.5 per cent and 0.2 per cent respectively.

The group said discounts on outdoor clothes such as coats as shoppers prepared for the nationwide snowfall and drop in temperatures during the month helped a slowing in the decline of non-food sales. They dropped by 1.6 per cent compared to February last year when they fell by 4.4 per cent.

Food sales, helped by inflation, were the star performer helped by demand over Valentine’s Day rising by 3.5 per cent on last year’s figures.

“Scottish retail sales turned in a credible performance last month, prior to the widespread snow disruption, with a resumption in growth above that witnessed over the past few months,” said SRC director David Lonsdale.

“This was once again driven by the food category, aided in part by grocery and drink sales associated with St Valentine’s Day, and by better sales of clothing and footwear spurred on by discounting of winter and outdoor wear.

“The polarisation between food and non-food retail sales was less marked than before, with the latter recording a much shallower rate of decline than over recent months.”

Craig Cavin, KPMG head of retail in Scotland, added that the figures were pleasing but he remained cautious about high street demand: “Following a challenging January, Scottish retailers will be cautiously optimistic as figures show signs of improvement this month. Indeed, total growth of 0.7 per cent in February is an accomplishment in the current retail environment,” he said.

“However, non-food sales figures are disappointing once again as consumers continued to migrate online. This, teamed with rising costs for retailers, is continuing to put pressure on our high streets.”

Cavin said the impact of “one of the coldest winters on record” also remains to be seen. He said retailers need to adapt and think of new ways to encourage spending over the next few months “through focusing on a differentiated proposition and staying relevant to the consumer”.

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This article is part of a wider campaign called the High Streets Initiative, a new section of Business Advice championing independent and small retailers by identifying the issues that put Britain’s high streets under pressure. Visit our High Streets Initiative section to find out more.

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