Such stores are still trying to “claw their way back” to pre-crisis levels, with the pace of recovery drawn out, Scottish Retail Consortium boss David Lonsdale has warned.
The warning comes on the back of new data for the sector – and in the wake of tighter new hospitality restrictions north of the Border.
British Retail Consortium-Shoppertrak figures reveal that footfall across the UK fell by nearly a third year on year in September, with only a 4.7 percentage point improvement from August.
For high streets specifically, many of which have been hit by an increase in home working, it fell by 37 per cent, retail parks 7 per cent, and 36.1 per cent for shopping centres, with many of the latter facing the closure of a cinema anchor tenant.
In Scotland, footfall in shopping centres and malls was down by just over a third, a slightly better performance than the 43 per cent drop seen in August, and the fifth-highest drop of all UK regions. Shopper footfall in Glasgow was down 29 per cent, again a slight improvement on the 35 per cent fall recorded the previous month.
Lonsdale said: “Scottish stores lost £2.2 billion of retail sales over the first six months of the pandemic, and have yet to claw their way back to pre-crisis levels. Shopper footfall is gradually returning but the improvement is painfully slow.
“The impact on city-centre footfall in particular of the latest government restrictions on hospitality, coupled with warnings about using public transport, have yet to be seen but are unlikely to help over the next few weeks. This is a real worry for consumer-facing firms in the run up to the critical Christmas trading period.”
Karen Forret, owner and MD of clothing retailer Wilkies, which has 15 stores across Scotland, told The Scotsman there must be encouragement by the government for consumers to "come out and shop safely”. This is to prevent “irreparable”, long-term harm to high streets, communities and the retail workforce, with footfall currently lagging far behind, especially in bigger town centres and cities.
“Non-essential” retailers have followed all rules to reopen and keep staff and customers safe, she stressed, adding: “Do ministers realise how quickly an empty unit dilapidates (sic) and how hard it becomes to find a tenant willing to invest in them to reopen them?
"We are open for business, we welcome customers safely into our stores. We need to live with this virus and not allow scaremongering to destroy the retail industry and the investment we put back into the economy and our communities each year.”
However, there is some cause for optimism. Yesterday, sportswear retailer Decathlon said it was targeting several Scottish locations after unveiling a £1 million Aberdeen store, and seeing its existing superstores in Edinburgh and Glasgow achieve year-on-year growth.
Additionally, more than half of Scots always support shops on their high street, according to a recent study – although it also said the sector needs backing to survive the consequences of Covid-19.