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City split in ‘drab’ footfall figures for Scottish shops

Christmas shoppers in Multrees Walk
Shopping numbers were up in Edinburgh but sharply down in Glasgow (pic: Terry Murden)

Fewer shoppers visited Scottish high streets in December compared with the previous year, although the latest data reveals a stark difference between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Footfall in Scottish stores fell 2.2% year on year, which was blamed on wet weather and cautious spending by consumers. The figure was better than the UK average fall of 5%.

The number of shoppers in the Scottish capital increased by 6.4% year on year, while Glasgow footfall slumped by 9.6%.

Some may point to the number of tourists swelling the streets in Edinburgh at this time of year, while Glasgow’s low emission zone has been blamed for hitting footfall in the city.

Scottish shopping centres saw footfall down by 0.6% in December (YoY), 0.8 percentage points fall on November.

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David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Visits to Scotland’s stores slipped back in December compared to the same period the year before, during what traditionally is seen as the busiest trading month of the year.

“This was the third successive monthly decline, rounding off a pretty drab final trading quarter of the year for Scottish stores. Footfall fell across most destinations, with only Edinburgh seeing an improvement.

“There’s little denying these are dreich and dispiriting figures for retailers with physical bricks and mortar premises, many of whom were hoping for a good Christmas to help weather ever increasing costs and tide them over the traditionally leaner months early in the new year.”

He said further figures this month would confirm the impact on sales. About a third of non-food retail sales now took place online, he said.

David Lonsdale: significant flux (pic: Terry Murden)

He added: “This remains a period of significant flux for the retail industry. Sluggish demand, elevated supply chain and government-mandated cost pressures, and an uncertain economic outlook, are all weighing on stores.”

Andy Sumpter, a Europe, Middle East and Africa retail consultant for Sensormatic Solutions, which tracks footfall for the SRC, said: “One of the wettest Decembers on record combined with dampened consumer confidence and ongoing spending caution meant some retailers may have been left disappointed in last month’s footfall performance.

“While we saw festive glimmers of shopper traffic peaks in and around discounting days, such as Boxing Day when footfall improved [by] 39.2% week-on-week, many may have been waiting for a last-minute Christmas trading rush that never came.

“Retailers will be hoping that demand improves as inflation starts to ease and the impact of the inflationary spending squeeze on disposable incomes softens.”

Mr Lonsdale has again warned the government against re-introducing a public health supplement to business rates paid by grocers selling alcohol and tobacco.

The surcharge raised almost £100 million over three years before it was scrapped in 2015. Daily Business reported on Budget day – 19 December – that it may be brought back.

The proposal was not mentioned by Shona Robison, the deputy first minister, during her budget address. However, it was referenced in a written budget document.

It stated: “Recognising the importance of sustaining the public finances and public services, we are also committed to exploring the reintroduction of a non-domestic rates public health supplement for large retailers in advance of the next budget, while continuing work over the coming year to explore an infrastructure levy, to be implemented by spring 2026.”

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