It has been a difficult enough challenge for town centres and independent retailers in their battle to survive in recent years.

Online shopping and out of town malls are just some of the threats which local towns and high streets have had to contend with and negotiating their way through a global pandemic has become the latest crisis they have had to steer through.

However, there is optimism among some in the sector that shopping local might be a priority for consumers as retail is slowly opened up after lockdown.

Many retailers are watching how stores and high streets in England have coped with a return to trading with social distancing in place and on Friday non-essential shops in Northern Ireland were allowed to reopen.

The Scottish Retail Sales Monitor for April, which was the first complete month of lockdown conditions, saw total sales plummet by 40.3 per cent. Even though food retailers were able to trade and despite the closure of pubs and restaurants, food sales fell by -2.4 per cent.

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This week the Scottish Retail Consortium is due to release monthly retail sales performance figures for May. The SRC believes that one way to help boost the retail sector, which supports 240,000 jobs, coming out of lockdown could be through a series of effective short-term measures.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy and external affairs at the SRC, said: “I would like to see both governments, Holyrood and Westminster, look at short term measures to help retail recover and encourage consumer spending. Cutting VAT might be one option to look at. I know they will be considering the long-term approach to economic recovery but we need to look at ways of encouraging spending.”

In a recent submission by the SRC to the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Scotland’s economic recovery from Covid-19, it suggested temporary measures to encourage and sustain consumer spending. It recommended a temporary reduction in income tax or land and business transactions tax, a short-life environmental scrappage scheme, or direct cash payments to consumers.

Mr MacDonald-Russell says there are many challenges for retailers and town centres as they begin to trade again.

He added: “We have seen how supermarkets have been able to trade during the crisis and have managed with queues outside in car parks, but how do we do that in a town centre and keep two metres apart. We really need to look at how we have a queuing system in place in town and centres and given that the Scottish weather can be unpredictable we may have to look at some temporary measures in towns as well.

“There is also even the issue of how people can reach town centres as with social distancing on public transport it will be more difficult for them. One thing we may see though on the positive side is people wanting to shop local and support local businesses.”

During lockdown some firms have been aided by grants which were made available by the Scottish Government's £1 million COVID-19 Business Improvement Districts Resilience Fund.

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Phil Prentice, Chief Officer of Scotland's Towns Partnership and National Programme Director of Scotland's Improvement Districts, said believes town centres, and the local businesses who occupy them, are the beating heart of the Scottish economy and this COVID-19 outbreak has been hugely challenging, against an already difficult high street trading environment.

Mr Prentice said: "Business Improvement Districts have been working really hard in their communities to support local traders, and the support available from the Scottish Government's BID Resilience Fund has been instrumental in enabling them to go the extra mile helping local firms navigate the crisis.

"It's been really heartening to see the critical role BIDs have played in sharing information, creating digital marketplaces, locking-in local spending, providing PPE, raising money for local charities, and much more. Thanks in part to their efforts, many town centres and local businesses are in a better position for the recovery phase of this crisis than might otherwise have been the case."

One business improvement district has put its grant to good use by developing an app which is to be launched tomorrow.

The Love St Andrews Marketplace app delivered by BID St Andrews is aimed at to providing a marketplace where all local businesses with existing delivery and/or click and collect services.

The app is a digital town centre representing businesses from all sectors. It is hoped that the app will help to drive revenue streams, save jobs and ensure that businesses survive and thrive as they emerge from the crisis.

Louise A Fraser, chair of BID St Andrews and owner of Fraser Gallery St Andrews, said: “As we move forward the parameters within which businesses can operate will be changing and our Marketplace app will allow them to offer their products and services with delivery and collect options, in addition to their physical sales. From our own perspective, it offers us a unique opportunity to promote the gallery and the work of our artists via a new and exciting platform and, just as we are a part of the ‘high street’ offering in town, it made sense to be a part of this virtual high street too and we are excited to see what response we get from the app.”

A range of actions including creation of resources and advice for how businesses can safely re-open as lockdown is phased out has been the focus of Embrace Elgin BID group.

They are looking at a number of options to consider from bringing similar businesses together to allow them to use larger premises outdoors in order to accommodate more people. They have also been looking into the issue of toilet facilities and whether some kind of temporary sanitised facility can be brought in.

Gill Neill, chief executive of Embrace Elgin, said: “I think there is a degree of anxiety for both retail staff and customers. We have been working with businesses to make sure they have advice on PPE where required, help on providing sanitising gel in shops and how best to serve their customers. I think what this period has shown us is people miss the experience of shopping and realise it is a nice thing to do and enjoy what they have on their doorstep.”

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Milngavie BID has proved to be a vital lifeline of digital support for local businesses during COVID-19 lockdown with grant money being used to help get some traders online for the first time.

Traders are being assisted without charge to set up e-commerce websites, while businesses that are already selling on-line are being offered marketing guidance.

The BID has enabled businesses to start selling on-line and with no costs incurred for site development, digital marketing or hosting for six months.

So far, several businesses, including Driftwood Lifestyle, The Dress Shop, Ruby Red Gifts and Elba Gallery, have set up new e-commerce websites.

Graeme Ross, chair of Milngavie BID, said: “It has been very positive to see the take up of the digital support and the results of the new e-commerce websites.

“Within hours of the new trading websites going live, on-line orders started to come in. This has mainly been from local residents and a few new customers.

“I think coming out of lockdown we just don’t know how things will work out. However, we are doing things to make sure we are ready. We have seen more people walk through the town and we are very lucky that we are in an area where we hope people will support local businesses."