Warning ahead

Scots retail sales close to pre-pandemic levels

LK Bennett Edinburgh shop
Shoppers have made a welcome return

Rising prices and the removal of most Covid restrictions help Scottish retail sales return near to pre-pandemic levels last month.

However, the rise in March sales by 0.6% compared with March 2019 and by 0.7% on a like-for-like basis could be temporary as the cost of living bites.

Food sales were driven by higher inflation alongside customers focusing more on eating at home than at eateries.

The first Mother’s Day in three years when Scots could visit family led to strong food sales as well as a boost for fashion and beauty lines.

Retailers also noted the endemic supply challenges had eased slightly, helping furniture and electrical shops.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, Head of Policy at the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “March sales sparkled compared to recent months as shoppers returned to spending.

“This is the first time sales have been close to pre-pandemic levels since the Covid crisis hit and coincides with the removal of nearly all Scottish Covid restrictions. However, these improved figures are at least in part a result of rising shop prices as retailers grapple with a host of inflationary costs.

“Whilst these sales figures are encouraging, the economic storm clouds continue to concern retailers. Costs continue to rise and will worsen in April as non-domestic rates bills return for many retailers.

“Rising inflation means prices are likely to continue rising, which will put immense pressure on households discretionary spending which has significant implications for many retailers.”

Paul Martin, UK Head of Retail at KPMG, said: “Retailers will be glad to see sales in Scotland reach pre-pandemic levels for the first time since the health crisis began.

“While this is promising, it’s too early to call this a return to normality given the cloud of geopolitical and macro-economic uncertainty which has the potential to dampen consumer confidence and spending power in the months ahead.”

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