Shop sales in Scotland have returned to pre-pandemic levels for the first time since the health crisis began, according to new data.

Figures released by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) showed total sales last month were 0.6% up on March 2019.

However, it attributed the improvement in part to rising prices, rather than increased sales volumes.

The industry body also warned that “economic storm clouds” such as rising costs and inflation remained a concern.


March’s figures showed overall food sales increased by 6%, compared with the same period three years ago, while the non-food category was down by 3.9%.

SRC said food was driven by higher inflation and customers focusing more on eating at home than at eateries. It also benefited from the first Mother’s Day in three years when Scots could visit family.

Fashion and beauty lines also performed better, as did furniture and electrical shops as supply challenges eased.

Rising prices

SRC head of policy Ewan MacDonald-Russell said March sales had “sparkled” compared with recent months, following the removal of nearly all Scottish Covid restrictions.

However, he added: “Whilst these sales figures are encouraging, the economic storm clouds continue to concern retailers.

“Costs continue to rise and will worsen in April as non-domestic rates bills return for many retailers.

“Rising inflation means prices are likely to continue rising, which will put immense pressure on households discretionary spending which has significant implications for many retailers.”

The return to pre-pandemic level of sales isn’t much of an achievement if it is caused by price inflation. And after a severe battering in recent years, the cost-of-living crisis confronts retailers with new challenges.

This was the sector that wasn’t just hit hard by Covid, but was already struggling due to structural change. So it was never likely to be a full recovery, but an acceleration of existing trends and new business shapes emerging.

The growth in grocery home delivery was slowing up until pandemic hit. Lockdown then forced a rapid shift to consumer habits that have continued to be dynamic between shop visits, use of convenience stores and big weekly shops.

The decline in conventional shopping, particularly on high streets, raises questions much bigger than sales figures, prompting retailers to set out how they can make shopping a more appealing prospect.

KPMG’s UK head of retail, Paul Martin, said that while the latest figures were proising, it was too early to call them a return to normality.

He added: “As households feel the pressure, retailers are facing their own battle with rising costs and inflation, and are walking a tightrope between absorbing rising costs themselves or passing these on to consumers.

“It remains to be seen whether or not consumers will reduce physical and virtual spending to offset rising household bills and reduced household incomes.”

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