Coronavirus: Retail sales plummet as pandemic takes hold

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Scotland’s major shopping streets have been eerily quiet during lockdown

Scotland’s high streets took a massive hit last month as the full effects of the coronavirus pandemic took hold, according to a regular survey.

Total sales plummeted year-on-year by 40.3% – the biggest fall recorded since the SRC-KPMG retail sales monitor began in January 1999.

Overall food sales were down by 2.4%, while non-food sales fell by 71.4%.

April was the first full month under lockdown conditions, which included the closure of all “non-essential” stores.

Online sales increased during the month but failed to make much of an impact on overall sales as they were largely limited to smaller goods.

The Scottish Retail Consortium said the decline in April affected all parts of retail, with even grocery waning as households whittled down stockpiled food.

Director David Lonsdale said: “The few bright spots included sales of items which allowed people to work or school from home, especially computers and accessories.

“DIY, toys and games, and personal hygiene items – like anti-bacterial gel – performed well.

“Meanwhile the beauty, clothing, footwear, and furniture categories had a torrid time.”

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Even sales of groceries waned during April as consumers tackled their stockpiles

Paul Martin, head of retail at KPMG UK, said it was impossible to downplay the scale of the impact of the pandemic on the sector.

“With food-sales also down slightly and online retail failing to make up the lost ground, it’s clear that the industry has a monumental challenge ahead.”

He added: “Shifting consumer habits combined with the global pandemic have created a perfect storm for the sector, but this is a resilient industry.

“With a focus on costs, greater innovation and collaboration, retailers will survive and regain some of the lost ground in the long term.”

Earlier this month, the huge impact of the coronavirus crisis on the Scottish economy were highlighted in separate reports.

An RBS survey indicated that private sector activity in Scotland fell at an “unparalleled” rate last month.

Its Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) recorded the biggest drop in new business on record.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry warned key sectors of the economy – including oil and gas, aviation, tourism and hospitality – could be facing a “particularly difficult” future.

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