THE value of Scottish retail sales in February was down 1% on the same month of 2013, with the food category showing its sharpest year-on-year drop since comparable records began in 1999, industry figures reveal.

Publishing its latest monthly sales monitor today, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) declared that trading conditions in February were "challenging".

The value of Scottish retail sales in January had been up by 4.3% year-on-year. However, this followed a 1.1% year-on-year fall in December.

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And the retail sales picture was again worse in Scotland than in the UK as a whole in February.

Figures published last week by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed the value of sales in the UK in February was up 0.7% on the same month of last year. On the basis of the SRC and BRC figures, Scotland has under-performed the UK as a whole consistently in recent times in terms of the year-on-year movement in retail sales.

The latest figures from the SRC show the value of food sales in Scotland in February was down 1.3% on the same month of 2013 - the sharpest year-on-year drop since comparable records began in January 1999.

The SRC noted food sales were down by a rounded 2.3% year-on-year in volume terms. This calculation takes into account the BRC's annual food price inflation rate of 1.1% for February.

Meanwhile, the value of non-food sales in Scotland last month was down by 0.7% on February 2013. However, the SRC estimated that the value of non-food sales north of the Border in February would have been up about 1.3% year-on-year, rather than down by 0.7%, if a similar contribution from online and non-store sales to that recorded by the BRC for the UK as a whole had been factored into the Scottish numbers.

David McCorquodale, head of accountancy firm and SRC survey sponsor KPMG's UK retail sector practice, said: "February saw a reality check on the road to recovery as consumers shunned the economic indicators and refused to loosen the spending belts.

"Total food sales suffered their biggest drop, excluding Easter variations, since our records began in January 1999. The battle lines are well-defined in this sector and price cuts announced in March will filter through in future months to the benefit of the consumer, but at a cost to the retailers and their suppliers in terms of (profit) margin."

The SRC's downbeat survey of February sales follows a retail footfall report from the industry body on Monday, showing shopper numbers in Scotland last month were down 4.1% on February 2013.

SRC director David Lonsdale said: "These sales figures confirm that Scottish retailers experienced a challenging February."

He added: "As in the rest of the UK, we have seen a particularly tough environment in the food market. Margins are under pressure and, while the intense competition brings benefits to Scottish consumers in terms of keeping prices low, it can be a challenging environment for the businesses involved."