The Christmas shopping season is off to a “miserable” start, figures show

Sales of wellington boots and cold and flu medicines “did well” last month, but sales overall fell in real terms in Scotland as the busy Christmas period got off to a “lousy” start, monthly figures showed.

The “dead” weather saw sales of such items do well, Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) director David Lonsdale said as the organisation's latest monthly retail figures for October were published on Wednesday.

The busiest quarter of the retail calendar year got off to a “lousy” start in Scotland due to storms, flooding and the ongoing cost of living crisis.

SRC SRC-KPMG's monthly retail sales tracker showed a 2.3% year-on-year decline in retail sales in October, after adjusting for inflation, which represented the fourth straight month of declines in real terms.

October is seen as the start of the busy Christmas shopping season.

Grocery sales growth slowed, but lower-priced indulgences such as cosmetics and perfumes did well, as did sales of wellington boots and cold medicine.

Total sales last month rose 2.9% compared to October 2022, when they had risen 6.3%. Adjusted for inflation, the year-on-year drop was 2.3%, the SRC said.

Food sales increased by 7.5% compared to October 2022, when they had increased by 10.9%.

Lower-priced delights such as cosmetics and perfumes did well, as did sales of wellington boots and cold and flu medicines, perhaps unsurprisingly given the drookit conditions.

David Lonsdale

However, adjusted for the estimated impact of online sales, total non-food sales fell 1.9% in October compared to the same period last year.

October was below the three-month average of 8.5% and the 12-month average increase of 12.1%. The three-month average was below the UK level of 7.9%.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Severe storms and repeated flooding and disruption combined with lingering concerns about the cost of living put a real squeeze on retail sales in Scotland last month.

“It's been a lousy start to retail's golden quarter. The major weakness was the weakest monthly performance since July and the fourth consecutive month of decline in real terms in the value of retail sales.

“The decline was seen across all categories, but was particularly sharp in non-food, which posted its first decline since May.

“Growth in food sales continued to decline, reflecting the decline in food price inflation.

“Lower-priced indulgences such as cosmetics and perfumes did well, as did sales of wellington boots and cold and flu medicines – perhaps unsurprising given the drookit conditions.

“Formal wear was a bright spot as people returned to corporate events and prepared for the upcoming party season, but clothing in general suffered as did sales of bigger ticket items including white goods, electricals and furniture.

“Hopefully the drop in sales is only temporary.

“That said, it may continue for a while yet as there are signs that households are delaying Christmas-related spending in the hope of taking a chance during the Black Friday sales.

“With consumers so price sensitive, it is important that the Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in their forthcoming Budgets seek to support consumer confidence while helping retailers keep prices down at the checkout.

“The marked slowdown in shop price inflation should help, as should temporary discounts on peak rail fares and the controversial council tax freeze.

“However, we need to see ministers rule out a rise in the business rate that would add significantly to shopkeepers' outings and put upward pressure on prices for consumers.”

Paul Martin, partner, head of UK retail at KPMG, said: “The upcoming Christmas season poses challenges for retailers as they compete to squeeze a share of consumer spend through promotions, further squeezing already tight margins.

“Expected lower levels of spending make this Christmas season potentially the toughest since before the pandemic.”