Retail sector faces ‘bumpy road’ amid cost of living crisis


Retail sales were close to pre-pandemic levels last month, although the cost of living crisis is making the recovery more difficult.

Latest figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and KPMG showed total sales in Scotland rose 15.3% in April this year, compared to April 2021, when they were up 107.9%.

However, on a three-year basis, they were down 0.5% from the same month in 2019; before the pandemic.

The Retail Sales Monitor provided comparisons with April 2019, as in April last year non-essential retail stores were closed for most of the month, pushing many consumers to buy goods online.

SRC Director David Lonsdale said: “The retail recovery is still in its infancy and the outlook needs to be tempered in light of pressures on consumer spending.

“Household finances are under pressure as inflation, tax hikes and other bills eat into shoppers’ purses and wallets, meaning disposable incomes just aren’t expanding as much. far than before, presenting Scottish retailers with a tougher market.”

Figures show total food sales last month rose 2.9% from April 2021, when they were up 3%.

Looking at the change from three years ago, total food sales increased by 3.5% in April 2019.

Total non-food sales rose 25.7% in April, compared to the same month last year, when they rose 195.9%.

However, they were down 3.9% from the same month in 2019.

Lonsdale said several non-food categories — such as clothing and accessories, footwear and beauty products — were lifted by the return to office work, more social occasions and vacations.

However, sales of larger items – including electrics, appliances and furniture – have been “dull” as recent spikes in inflation and taxes have taken a bite out of wages.

Paul Martin, head of UK retail at KPMG, explained: “The pressure on consumers has tightened considerably with rising energy prices and the higher cost of food and other basic products.

“Easter holiday spending has contributed to the growth in food sales, and while ahead of pre-pandemic levels, it is unremarkable when inflation is taken into account.

“Amid declining consumer confidence and a possible coming recession, the retail sector faces a bumpy road with cost pressures from all directions.

“Many retailers could benefit from pent-up demand in the short term, although in the medium term they will have no choice but to raise prices to protect their margins.”

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