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'Not much cause for cheer' according to latest retail sales figures

'To discount, or not to discount before Christmas is real question' for retailers says sales chief.

Shoppers in Buchanan Street

High streets have endured a challenging year, as the latest figures show falling sales again.

November like-for-like sales, which strip out factors such as new store openings, are 2.2% lower than they were a year ago, according to the latest Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) KPMG retail sales monitor.

Total sales are also down 1.2% over the year but this increases to a fall of 2.7% when inflation is factored in.

The performance in Scotland is worse than the UK as a whole, with November's total sales up 1.8% and like-for-like sales up 0.4% on the same month last year.

But Fiona Moriarty, SRC director, said retailers are reporting increased sales in recent weeks.

The retail sales monitor shows that while food sales increased in November, sales of non-food sales dropped.

Total non-food sales are down 4.7% compared with November last year and like-for-like sales are down 5.2%.

Last month's cold and wet weather is said to have put off shoppers, partly explaining the poor sales of clothing and footwear.

Meanwhile, total food sales for November are 2.6% higher than 12 months ago, while like-for-like sales are up 1%.

Ms Moriarty said: "These underwhelming figures, which scarcely improve on October, mark the closing stages of what has been a challenging year for retailers in Scotland.

"Consumer confidence is stronger but this has yet to kick-start sales growth. People are waiting for attractive promotions and discounts before they make a purchase and holding back on spending too much too soon so that they can be sure of covering the cost of Christmas.

"The wet and cold weather also deterred Scottish shoppers in November. It's one of the main factors which resulted in clothing and footwear posting its worst performance since January, excluding April which was hit by this year's earlier Easter.

"While there's not much cause for cheer in November's figures, retailers have been reporting increased sales in recent weeks, suggesting that the public mood is shifting as the festive season approaches.

"With Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year, many may sense that having a full shopping weekend two days before Christmas gives them more time to round off their buying.

"Retailers will be hoping that, in the end, these factors translate into a merry Christmas."

David McCorquodale, head of retail for KPMG, said: "There is little festive cheer in the November figures this year. Food sales reflect a real-terms decline when food inflation is taken into account and non-food sales declined by around 5%.

"These figures are against very weak comparatives last year when November sales in Scotland showed the worst sales fall since 1999.

"The Chancellor's autumn statement last week warned of little growth in the year ahead and it will take a while for consumers to feel secure enough to open their wallets and spend again.

"Rather than spread the cost of Christmas, it appears the consumer is waiting for last-minute promotions before committing to buy. The danger is that many may simply choose to reduce the number of presents they give this Christmas rather than incur further expense.

"For retailers, the next two weeks are critical for margins and cash flows and they will not want to be left at the end of the year holding unwanted stock. To discount, or not to discount before Christmas is the real question."

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