Worst Scottish Sales Fall Since at least 1999 – AGAIN

There comes a point where even I, with my inbuilt Welsh pessimism (except when playing Scotland at rugby), get fed up with the bad news. But here we go again. The Scottish Retail Sales Monitor reporting on retail sales in January 2012 are headlined “The worst Scottish sales fall since at least 1999”. Is it me or has that been pretty much the headline for the last year or so?

Scottish sales, especially in non-food in January, have gone off a cliff. They are substantially worse than the rest of the UK. Scottish Government claims of being supportive to retailing and doing everything they can to bolster consumers do not seem to be producing the results.

In January 2012

  • All sales were down on a like for like basis by 2.6 % on 2011
  • Non-food sales were down 6%, whilst food was up 1.1%
  • Total sales were down 1.5% on last year
  • UK figures showed  growth in total sales of 2.1% and a fall in like-for like sales of -0.3%
  • The three month moving average saw sales fall in Scotland but rise in the UK (Total -0.2 vs 2.4 and Like for like -1.3 vs 0.3).

However you look at it, these figures are dreadful, but for me most worrying is the continued and sustained underperformance of the Scottish sales figures. This has been the developing story since the end of the English recession, but the gap seems to have widened in recent months.

We all suspected that there would be a hangover post Christmas, but this is now even more worrying than we thought for retailers and retail spaces across Scotland.

The only thing that gives me some pause for thought in looking at these figures is the question of internet and online sales. As far as I understand it, there is an issue over the extent to which internet sales by Scottish consumers are booked and recorded as being Scottish (or indeed should be). On the surface it looks as though UK internet sales would be in the UK data used here, but that Scottish internet sales are not.

Does this matter? Well if this is a measure of retail activity in Scotland then they should be included. Are click and collect sales to be recorded to the head office address for example as “sold” through the central website, or to the (Scottish) store? Does this vary by retailer? There may also be issues of comparability if internet sales, which might be delivered through Scottish shops (or done directly) are recorded in the UK figures. Likewise however, I wonder how Amazon at Dunfermline might be treated if it was to be included (and in passing how resellers would need to be captured), given that they “sell” to and deliver outside Scotland.

Yet another example of how the internet is changing how we think about and report and record retail sales and consumer activity – and that going nowhere near e-Bay yet.

Please forgive the slight digression into internet sales and stats, but these retail sales figures are scary enough on any day, let alone my birthday!

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
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7 Responses to Worst Scottish Sales Fall Since at least 1999 – AGAIN

  1. Leigh … leaving aside your scurrilous optimism about Wales beating Scotland just because of a few lucky results… you’re bang on the ball, IMO, about the importance of the UK versus Scotland construct of retail data. For example, one of the world’s largest Amazon warehousing and sales servicing operations is in Inverclyde – so how is the phenomenal Amazon global trade being facilitated from that facility being factored into Scottish economic (retail) date in any meaningful way?
    That example means for me some radical rethinking around how we construct meaningful data covering the retail dimensions of Scotland-UK-Europe-Global Market Place
    I’m especially interested in this theme because I’m speculating that the whole, online, digital, web2, social media spectrum is the card (perhaps the only card?) to play in saving and re-inventing what we misleadingly call ‘High Streets’ in Scotland. I’m attending the ‘Saving the High Street’ breakfast workshop that A&DS and Scottish Towns Centre Consortium are putting on this Tuesday in Glasgow’s Lighthouse. So I’m hoping to air some of my musings at that.

  2. Leigh Sparks says:

    Two things concern me about the data. First, there is the obvious concern about different things being recorded in two series when we wish to make comparisons between the series. That is going to be ongoing and problematic unless resolved. But that secondly brings the issue of how do we resolve it, because as you say the issue of retail trade and sales over the internet is not as straightforward as might be imagined.

    I am meant ot be a provocateur at the breakfast meeting tomorrow and I am sure issues of internat and town centres will come up.

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