RETAIL sales in Scotland lagged significantly behind pre-pandemic levels in December, new figures show.

Total sales in Scotland were 13 per cent lower in the five weeks from November 28 to January 1 compared with December 2019, the latest Scottish Retail Sales Monitor has found.

Food was described as a “bright spot” by the Scottish Retail Consortium, with total sales 4.5% up on a two-year comparison.

The SRC included 2019 figures after a turbulent 2020 in which “much of retail moved between being open and closed”.

Total sales in Scotland increased by 15.6% compared with December 2020, when they had decreased by 16.6%, and which is above the three-month average growth of 7.4% and the 12-month average of 14.8%.

Scottish sales grew by 13.4% on a like-for-like basis compared with December 2020, when they had decreased by 15.6%, and which is above the three-month average increase of 5.6% and the 12-month average of 12.8%.


Total food sales increased 1.2% versus December 2020, when they had increased by 3.3%. December was above the three-month growth of -0.6% and the 12-month average growth of 0.7%. The three-month average was below the UK level of 0.3%.

On the two-year comparison, the total food sales growth of 4.5% in December, is above the three-month average growth of 3.4%.

David Lonsdale, SRC director, said that 2021 finished with a mixed performance “as Christmas trading beat the previous years’ frankly dismal figures for December but fell significantly short of pre-pandemic performance”.

He said: “Government instructions in the early to middle of the month to work from home and to keep socialising to a minimum had a chilling effect on retail sales, which were an eighth down on 2019.

“Grocery was a bright spot, as were purchases of Christmas decorations, as get-togethers of family and friends over the festive period returned and as Scots ate out less following fresh public health instructions. Christmas related gifting did well especially beauty and fragrances, sales of smaller electrical goods, and leisurewear. The cancellation of Christmas parties and social activities snuffed out the nascent growth in more formalwear seen in the early part of the month.”

He added: “The recovery of sorts in Scottish retail sales has been stymied for several months now and remains more sluggish and persistently weaker than across the UK as a whole. Last month’s trading rounded off a tough final quarter of the year for the industry in Scotland, which is concerning. It reinforces the urgent need for a retail recovery plan from government - more certainty over the future easing of Covid restrictions including the rescinding of the work from home order, grants for shops as Wales is offering, and a short-term shopper stimulus plan.”

Total non-food sales increased by 27.7% in December compared with the same month in 2020, when they had decreased by 33.4%.

On a two-year comparison, total non-food sales declined by 27.7% in December, which is below the three-month average decrease of 26.1%.

Adjusted for the estimated effect of online sales, total non-food sales increased by 19.5% in December versus the same month last year, when they had decreased by 17.7%. This is above the three-month average growth of 5.3% and below the 12-month average growth of 31.6%. The UK’s three-month average growth was 4.8%.

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “After promising volumes in November, Scottish consumers determined to enjoy the festive period got out and spent their money this year, causing retail sales in December to increase by just over 15% compared to 2020. However, the spread of the Omicron variant and updated Government guidelines naturally will have slowed spending during the final weeks of the year.

“While December’s figures are still behind pre-pandemic levels they do show a marked improvement on the previous year. Food sales in particular were the stand-out performer during the festive period, with sales growing 1.2% compared with December 2020 and 4.5% compared with the same month in 2019.”