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Brighter picture for retail sales - but sector still fragile

Scottish retail sales could be turning the corner after months of patchy performance, according to new indicators published this week by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC).

One or at most two of the three indicators published by the SRC have, at any one time over the last two years, pointed in a positive direction at the same time.

But this is the first time that all three sectoral indicators - which measure footfall, shop vacancy rates and sales - are all pointing in the right direction simultaneously.

Footfall rose 5.2% in April compared to a year ago, the shop vacancy rate dropped to 10.7% and total Scottish retail sales in Scotland rose by 1.9% in April compared to a year ago.

However, the upbeat news was tempered by the fact that growth in Scottish retail sales in April was just one-third of like-for-like UK average sales growth of 5.7%. In addition, the number of empty retail premises in Scotland remains slightly higher than the UK average.

So far as sales are concerned the monthly SRC KPMG Retail Sales Monitor found that clothing and footwear enjoyed their highest growth rate in more than three years. The uplift is believed to have been driven by shoppers replacing their wardrobes with items for the new season and buying children's clothing.

Food sales were 1.1% higher and non-food sales rose by 2.6% compared with April 2013. Big-ticket items such as furniture, gardening, DIY and materials for revamping the home also did well.

SRC director David Lonsdale described the fact that a broad range of retail indictors have started to point in a favourable direction at the same time as "promising". Retailers would, though, have to work hard to sustain this by improving their offer.

Lonsdale said: "The UK and Scottish governments and local authorities can assist by channelling their collective energies into ensuring that the retail industry, which is Scotland's largest private-sector employer providing 255,000 jobs, is even better placed to be able to invest, expand and create employment.

"Policies which put money into people's pockets, keep down the cost of doing business, and facilitate retail investment and expansion should be prioritised."

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