Retail experts hope “screen fatigue” will encourage Scots to keep shopping “for real” beyond the initial post-lockdown bounce.
New data from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) shows the number of people visiting shops around the country perked up during April as non-essential retailing got back up and running.
SRC has reported a 14.2 percentage point improvement from March 2021, when only essential retailing was allowed.
But last month’s tally was still substantially lower than two years ago, before the pandemic, with total shop visits – or “footfall” – down by 52.1% from April 2019.
It was also considerably worse than a 40% drop in the UK total, due to a faster easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in other parts of the UK.
Scottish shopping centre footfall declined by 59% last month, compared with April 2019, after a 72.1% decline in March.
SRC director David Lonsdale said: “Shopper footfall in Scotland began to recover in April in line with the phased re-opening of retail from lockdown.
“All retail destinations saw some improvement, especially in city centres during the final week of April as stultifying Covid restrictions ceased and shoppers took the opportunity to seek out their favourite stores.
“While these figures are undoubtedly encouraging, there is some way to go before we can say the industry has fully turned the page on the pandemic.”
‘Next few months remain challenging’
He added: “Parts of the economic ecosystem upon which some shops depend have yet to re-open – including some eateries, cinemas, and city centre offices.
“The cost of operating stores remains higher too in order to keep customers safe, given the need to spend on physical distancing and hygiene measures and PPE (personal protective equipment) for staff.
“As such, the next few months remain challenging. That’s why we encourage shoppers to make a point of getting out and supporting their favourite stores over the coming weeks, in turn helping to sustain these businesses and the local jobs they provide, as well as the vitality of our retail destinations.”
Europe, Middle East and Africa retail consultant Andy Sumpter, of Sensormatic Solutions, said: “Retail beginning to unlock saw a promising boost for the UK high street.
“While (UK) footfall still remains 40% down compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, consumer demand signals for a return to in-store shopping were promising.
“Despite occupancy limits restricting the numbers of customers allowed inside, shoppers happily braved long queues to get back in-store and shop their favourite brands in real life, after months confined to shopping from behind a screen.”
Mr Sumpter added: “Retailers will be hoping the lift in shopper traffic as they reopen can be sustained past pent-up demand in order to fuel long-term recovery.
“Our research shows an overwhelming amount of consumer support for bricks-and-mortar retail, with 71% of shoppers vowing to make a conscious effort to shop in-store once retail’s reopened, with many having missed the experience of in-store shopping when lockdown shuttered shops and others saying ‘screen fatigue’ had set in.
“Retailers will be counting on shoppers acting on that sentiment and voting with their feet to support the shops that serve their communities.”