The improvement in trading on Scotland's high streets last month, from a very poor showing to one that is still weak by historical standards, is revealed in figures published today by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) industry body.
The 1.5% annual pace of increase in the total value of Scottish retail sales in December was a big improvement on the 1.2% year-on-year fall recorded in November.
However, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has calculated that annual shop price inflation was 1.5% in December. And it last week put year-on-year growth in UK retail sales value in December at 1.5%.
On the basis of the SRC and BRC numbers, December retail sales volumes in Scotland and the UK as a whole were unchanged from a year earlier.
Figures published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics revealed annual UK consumer prices index inflation stood at 2.7% in December.
Tough festive trading conditions, against a backdrop of weak UK consumer confidence, have been highlighted in recent days by the collapse of photographic retailer Jessops and entertainment goods chain HMV.
The overall Scottish retail sector did, however, manage to record a strong turnaround in non-food sales, the more discretionary element of consumer spending, in December on the basis of the SRC figures. The value of non-food sales in Scotland last month was up 1.5% on the previous December – the joint-best annual pace of increase since spring 2011 and the first year-on-year advance in 2012. This followed a 4.7% year-on-year plunge in November.
And, with the BRC putting annual non-food shop price inflation at around zero, sales in this category were also up by about 1.5% in real terms.
The value of food sales in Scotland last month was up 1.4% on December 2011. This represents a significant slowing from a 2.6% year-on-year pace of increase in November. And it indicates a significant year-on-year fall in the volume of food sales, given the BRC puts annual food price inflation at 4.1%.
Fiona Moriarty, director of the SRC, said of the December sales figures: "Coming at the end of a relentlessly tough year for Scottish customers and retailers, this is a relatively good result. After a year of belt-tightening that left Scottish retailing consistently underperforming the UK as a whole, it seems significant numbers of people decided to put their jobs and money worries on hold, and spend."
She added: "For the first time in nearly two years, Scottish sales growth was not below the UK figure. At least when set against retailers' low expectations, that is something to celebrate."
Katherine Armstead, senior portfolio manager at Land Securities, said the property group's Scottish shopping centres had "remained resilient throughout the Christmas period".
Land Securities is joint owner of Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow, and its portfolio also includes shopping centres in Livingston, Dundee and Aberdeen.
Ms Armstead said: "Buchanan Galleries saw an 8% increase in footfall over December, with 1.8 million visitors to the centre, while many of the brands within our centres throughout Scotland, such as John Lewis, Next and Debenhams, have reported record Christmas trading, which shows consumers are still buying."