By Daniel Hunter
Total sales in Scotland for February were 0.6% down on February 2011, when they had increased 1.6%. Sales have now been lower than a year ago in four of the last five months.
Like-for-like sales were 1.7% lower than a year ago, when they had fallen 1.3%. On both measures this was the worst February year-on-year performance since the survey began in 1999.
Food sales growth increased a little but was still below the rate of inflation, so customers are actually buying less than a year ago. Non-food sales remained down on a year ago but the decline was slightly smaller than January's record fall. Consumers' underlying uncertainty about jobs and incomes persisted, hitting clothing, footwear and homewares. Big-ticket purchases suffered most and were often promotion-led.
On both like-for-like and total measures, sales were weaker than for the whole of the UK. Consumer confidence weakened slightly in Scotland but remained unchanged in the UK as a whole.
"Less bad than it was, is the best we can say for these figures. It's a relief that February didn't outdo January's worst-for-a-decade sales fall, but sales were again down on a year earlier and have now been negative for four of the last five months," Ian Shearer, Scottish Retail Consortium Director, said.
"Food did better than January as people restocked but most non-food goods struggled seriously. Especially for big-ticket items, it's taking margin-sapping discounts to generate the sales that are happening because many customers are still afraid to spend where they don't have to.
"The continued pressure on household budgets, and uncertainties about employment prospects, are undermining any boost to consumer confidence from falling inflation. It's vital that Governments in both Holyrood and Westminster support jobs and growth by holding back business costs."
David McCorquodale, Head of Retail in Scotland, KPMG, said that it was another disappointing month.
"February was another disappointing month with very little to cheer about on the high street," he said.
"One positive is the continued recovery in food sales which showed their largest rise since July 2011. While there is some inflationary increase in this number, it is nonetheless heartening to see recovery in the necessities.
"However, the significant fall in non-food sales, where both total sales and like-for like sales fell by more than four per cent - after the worst fall since records began the previous month - shows just how low consumer confidence has become. Until an upturn is truly felt through jobs, wages or net income, it seems that no level of promotion or discounting from the retailer can really lift the gloom.
"Many retailers feel they are fighting hard just to stand still at best and don't see any light at the end of the tunnel. However, there are retailers out there who deliver what the customer wants and needs — in terms of product, brand and price — which proves that if the proposition is spot on it is still possible to outperform the market and the competition."
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