Scottish Retail Sales: Covid Impacts against the Long Term Data

The British/Scottish Retail Consortium has been producing its Scottish Retail Sales Monitor for a long time.  I have been charting the results since last century (!) and have commented on the monthly figures in this blog before, for example here and here.

I do occasionally have issues with some of the press releases with the data and the ‘spin’ put on the figures (see here), but it is the SRC’s data and they can say what they wish.  The very existence of this monitor over this length of time is a valuable thing in its own right.

Covid has of course disrupted retail sales, with shops suffering restrictions and closures and consumers shifting patterns of spending across sectors and onto online channels.  Retailing itself has changed over the long and the Covid short (ish) run.

The first set of charts below is showing the long run data.  They compare in turn food and non-food sales in Scotland, all sales in Scotland and the UK, Scotland and the figures as a three month moving average and Scotland and the UK non-food sales including via the internet.  These are the normal charts that I use in commenting on this data.

The point they all make is the same.  We know the pandemic is a once in a century event (hopefully) but this is so starkly shown in the charts.  The disruption and volatility overwhelms the normal variation.  We are living in unprecedented times and need to have every sympathy with the retailers (small and large) who are trying to trade and survive in this pandemic.  This is tough and they have done a magnificent job as a sector.

The second sequence of charts looks at the same data sets but graphs only the sequence from January 2019 i.e. the year before the pandemic onwards.  The scale of disruption is again evident, but the differences are now more apparent. The graphs allow a focus on the pandemic changes.

It is worth noting here that the monitor looks at sales a year ago as its comparator.  But, in the pandemic this is an issue, especially when sectors are shut and in lockdown.  So March-July 2021 compares to 2019 not to 2020 i.e. two years back, not one, to account for this period of the first lockdown.

The impact of the pandemic in Scotland is clearly seen to be, as expected, mainly a non-food retail issue.  Whilst panic-buying of food in March 2020 is apparent, the food data is pretty consistent by comparison to non-food.  Here the first lockdown, followed by slow recovery and then further restrictions followed by a massive release in 2021 is seen.  Non-food retailing has been tough.

The Scotland and UK trends are pretty mirroring, though more extreme in Scotland (possibly a scale effect in part).  The three month average dampens this a bit, but the patterns remain.  In the UK sequence the early 2021 close-down is not really apparent.  The final graph shows the same broad pattern, though with an oddity around April 2020.

Note that the Y axis on these charts varies so care has to be taken in reading across charts.

What other comments might be made?  First, the latter part of 2021 has seen a better performance from Scottish retailing (partly to do with weaker comparators no doubt) and it is only in the very recent month(s) that this has reversed. Secondly, the double dip pattern of the 2020/21 sequence is well marked.

Retailers must be concerned that Omicron is going to see these sames pattern return.  One hopes not, as the sector has been radically affected over the last two years, as the first set of graphs so vividly portrays.

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.
This entry was posted in BRC, Covid19, Food Retailing, Lockdown, Non-food retailing, Pandemic, Retail Sales, Retailers, Sales, Scotland, Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Retail Sales, Scottish Retailing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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