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22 October 2014, 06:01
Scotland's high streets returned their weakest sales figures in more than 15 years in September as good weather and the massive interest in the referendum saw people shun the stores, retail experts said.
Overall sales for last month were 2.9% lower than September 2013, with like-for-like sales - which exclude factors such as new store openings - down by 4.2%.
David Martin of the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said apart from those months when the timing of the Easter celebrations had distorted sales, it was the weakest performance since records began in January 1999.
David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, said: "A nation gripped by politics and blessed with unseasonably warm weather shunned the high street in September.
"There can be little doubt that the engagement of the country in the referendum debate and the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the contest cast a shadow over the spending of the Scottish consumer in the first half of the month and impacted the value of sales.''
Total food sales in September were 2.4% lower than they had been a year ago, according to the SRC KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, with like-for-like sales down by 3.9%.
Non-food items fared worse, with total sales falling 3.3% and like-for-like sales dropping by 4.4%, according to the data.
Clothing and footwear was the worst performing sector in September, with the warm weather in September hindering sales of autumn clothing ranges such as coats and knitwear.
Stores selling footwear said while events such as golf's Ryder Cup at Gleneagles had boosted shopper numbers, this failed to offset the impact of the mild weather conditions.
Mr Martin, the SRC's head of policy and external affairs, said: "September was a challenging month for retailers with a combination of factors contributing to the weakest sales performance since January 1999, excluding Easter distortions.
"Despite improved levels of footfall due to the Ryder Cup and other events, demand remained weak for fashion items particularly boots and coats.''
He also said that the "intense competition in the grocery market, whilst benefiting Scottish consumers through lower prices, continued to have an impact on sales''.
But he added: ``Despite the testing environment last month there are encouraging signs for the industry as the build up to Christmas begins.
"As we approach Christmas, the search for talented seasonal staff has begun, to support the extra demand from shoppers. A large proportion of these seasonal roles will turn into permanent positions, proving that this time of year is great for those looking to begin a career in retailing.''
Mr McCorquodale said the September sunshine had "affected fashion and footwear retailers looking to move autumn collections''.
He added: "Whilst this month's sales figures set some weakest performance records, I see this as more of a disappointment for retailers battling against circumstances rather than a trend.
"There's no denying that the continued decline in food sales is reflected in the challenges facing the grocery sector up and down the UK. Fashion and footwear retailers suffered in the rest of the UK from warm weather but Scotland's worse performance was probably exaggerated by other distractions.
"The referendum is behind us and some uncertainties out of the way. The focus for the retail sector is now on the two months leading to Christmas.''