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Scotland marches ahead in consumer footfall ... so why are sales still down?

A RISE in the number of Scots browsing shops before going home to make their Christmas purchases online has been revealed in new figures which show that shopping trips rose while sales fell last December.

Fresh data from the Ipsos Retail Performance shows that the number of people going through shops' doors rose last month compared to a year ago.

But figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) found that in-store sales fell during the same period as canny shoppers have got into "showrooming" - finding what you want in a store but going home to buy the same item cheaper online.

According to Ipsos, the number of Scots making shopping trips rose by 6.4%, the highest figure in the UK. But at the same time SRC statistics show that sales decreased by 1.1% compared with December 2012, while online and non-store sales added 2.4 percentage points to the total growth of all non-food sales throughout December 2013.

David McCorquodale, of accountancy firm KPMG's UK retail sector practice, said that the growth in internet shopping had led to more Scots 'showrooming' and checking out items in store before buying on the internet.

He said: "December's figures for items such as fashion and footwear were up, although people held off buying big-ticket items.

"You see a scenario where a woman, for example, will go into a shop and try on a dress but will wait until she goes home to try and buy it cheaper online. That will count towards footfall, but not shop sales. It could be said that people don't go shopping anymore - they are always shopping."

Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance, said that there were distinct patterns to people's shopping habits during the festive period and that many stores had dropped their prices in a bid to attract customers.

He said: "December got off to a busy start. During the middle of the month we saw footfall levels ebb and flow, as retailers continually reviewed their sales and stock levels then adjusted promotional tactics to stimulate demand as required.

"Fashion retailers, in particular, fell under pressure to promote deep and early, as mild weather capped interest in winter wear."

Gary Turnbull, general manager at Braehead Shopping centre near Glasgow, noted that shopping at malls was becoming more of a day out than a trip to tick items off a shopping list and go home.

He said: "We noticed that people were doing more than just Christmas shopping and turned it into more of a social occasion. Shoppers spent a lot longer in the centre, meeting with friends and having a meal in one of our sit-down restaurants or treating each other to a glass of bubbly.

"Business in 2013 remained steady throughout the year. And we are very positive about 2014."

The decline in sales during Christmas was a blow to many retailers, who were hoping that the signs of economic recovery would translate into large takings at the tills.

They have pegged their hopes on householders relaxing the purse strings in the coming months with better economic weather expected.

But David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, sounded a note of caution with any financial recovery deemed to be fragile.

He said: "The hope is that across the UK and in Scotland there will be further recovery. But it is going to be a fragile recovery."

He added: "We are seeing the return of consumer confidence and there has been the recent good news that inflation has fallen.

"You make purchases with cash, not confidence. So until people see their own household budgets start to rise, spending will remain slow."

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retail

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