SCOTLAND’s retailers have suffered a record fall in sales amid the fallout from the coronavirus which resulted in what industry leaders described as a shocker of a month.

Total sales fell by 13 per cent in the five weeks to April 4, a closely-watched survey has found.

The results of the latest Scottish Retail Consortium-KPMG sales monitor underline the scale of the damage caused to the sector by the coronavirus and the lockdown that was imposed to try to slow its spread.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy and external affairs at Scottish Retail Consortium, said the results were “truly dismal”.

The monitor found sales of non-food items fell by around a third during the latest month with fashion and footwear revenues collapsing. Demand for big ticket items evaporated as consumer confidence plunged.

The decline in such areas was partially offset by increases in sales of foods and of products that could help people adjust to life under lockdown, such as home office supplies.

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Stockpiling resulted in unprecedented levels of grocery shopping before the UK-wide lockdown was imposed by Boris Johnson on March 23.

This has been followed by a boom in sales for supermarkets, which are included in the narrow range of stores that have been allowed to remain open on Scotland’s shopping streets. These are selling what are deemed to be essentials.

However, with total sales plunging by 44% in Scotland in the two weeks after the lockdown was imposed, Mr MacDonald-Russell said the monitor findings exposed just how badly retailers have been hammered by the coronavirus.

“The worst overall retail sales performance ever. The worst non-food sales ever. The worst fashion and footwear sales ever. March was nothing less than a shocker on Scotland’s High Streets,” said Mr MacDonald-Russell.

He added: “The bad news was truly rotten .... Across the board consumers appear to be reducing spending as they adapt to these new circumstances and economic concerns.”

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Noting that many firms have collapsed Mr MacDonald-Russell said those that have survived are facing incredibly difficult conditions, amid huge uncertainty about what the future may hold.

KPMG’s head of retail Paul Martin said the lockdown was likely to continue throughout May. Stores operators had to think fast about how to ensure they had a place in a potentially very different future retail sector.

With many firms facing pressure on cash flow, thousands of workers have been put on furlough or are at risk of being made redundant.

But Mr Martin added: “The industry is resilient. It’s been through many challenges in the past and it’s now playing a key role in helping to keep the country supplied and fed ... With the right measures and innovative thinking, Scotland’s retail sector will continue to play a crucial role.”

Mr MacDonald-Russell said sector players had invested huge sums at pace to allow social distancing measures to be implemented, maintain supply chains and to expand online capacity to help those who need it.

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He praised the UK and Scottish Governments for providing unprecedented levels of support for the sector.

Total sales fell by 4.3% across the UK over the five weeks to April 4.

Mr MacDonald-Russell said: “Scottish retail sales were considerably weaker than the UK as a whole, albeit the trends are fairly consistent. However, we are still adjusting to a period of unprecedented economic volatility and it may be as we get a longer timeframe we see more convergence between the data.”

In Scotland total non-food sales fell by 33.6% annually, or 27.9% after taking account of estimated online sales.

Total food sales rose 12.1%.

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