By Daniel Hunter

In December 2012 total Scottish sales increased by 1.5% compared with December 2011, when they had risen by 1.6%, according to the Scottish Retail Consortium.

Like-for-like sales increased by 0.3% on last December, when they had increased by 0.4%. Taking account of shop price inflation at 1.5%, December total sales were flat in real terms.

Excluding Easter, this was the strongest growth since December 2011. Despite relatively weak food sales, overall like-for-like and total growth was level with the UK, the first time Scotland has not underperformed the UK since January 2011.

Total food sales were 1.4% up on December 2011 when they had risen by 1.7%. This represents the worst performance since July. In real terms, food sales were down 2.7%, a worsening from November.

Total non-food sales rose by 1.5% on a year earlier when they had increased by 1.5%. This represents the best performance since March 2011. In real terms, non-food sales were up 1.5%, a sharp improvement from November.

"Coming at the end of a relentlessly tough year for Scottish customers and retailers, this is a relatively good result," Fiona Moriarty, Director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said.

"After a year of belt tightening, that left Scottish retailing consistently underperforming the UK as a whole, it seems significant numbers of people decided to put their jobs and money worries on hold and spend.

"For the first time in nearly two years, Scottish sales growth was not below the UK figure. At least when set against retailers' low expectations, that is something to celebrate.

"The overall revival was driven by non-food goods where growth was positive for the first time in 2012. This suggests people had been economising to treat family and friends with nice presents.

"We can only hope that this signals the beginning of a permanent turnaround."

David McCorquodale, Head of Retail for KPMG, said: "We're not seeing a major surge in Christmas spending here, but for a change December's total sales and like-for-likes have risen in line with the rest of the UK.

"Hardened by the experience of recent years many retailers held less stock across the last quarter, leaving them better prepared for lower demand. It seems that bargain hunting remained the order of the day as many consumers held off until discounts became available, which they did in various guises in the ten days before Christmas. Post-Christmas sales also drove footfall for the first few days.

"January is traditionally when consumers pay off personal debt which means the month will be challenging for many retailers. The lack of economic growth and shaky consumer confidence means 2013 may be yet another year of deferred discretionary spend, making life difficult for the average Scottish retailer for the foreseeable future."

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