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19 April 2017, 06:26
Retailers experienced slow sales last month, continuing a ''disappointing'' performance this year.
In March, Scottish sales fell by 1% on a like-for-like basis, which excludes new store openings, compared to the same month last year.
Total sales were down by 2.1% compared with March 2016, according to the Scottish Retail Consortium-KPMG Scottish Retail Sales Monitor.
Adjusted for deflation, measured at 0.8%, overall March sales declined by 1.3%.
Food sales were up 1.8%, but non-food sales dropped 5.2%.
Experts said the overall decline had been negatively distorted by the timing of Easter this year, with April offering more hope for the sector.
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: ''March saw a real-terms fall in retail sales of 1.3%, which is in line with the somewhat disappointing sales performance we've seen in 2017.
''However, these figures are heavily distorted as Easter falls in April this year.
''One trend is clear, though. Despite retailers' efforts to absorb costs, the impact of the fall in sterling on commodity prices is now clearly being seen through food price inflation.
''That's contributed to improved food sales of 1.8%. However, the concern is that consumers spending more on food are shifting spending from other items, potentially exacerbating the stresses affecting non-food retailers.
''Retailers will now look nervously forwards to Easter, hoping this month's depressed figures are a result of deferred, rather than reduced, consumer spending.
''However, continued flat sales combined within increased inflation would definitely be a cause for concern, both for retailers and the Scottish Government.''
Craig Cavin, head of retail in Scotland for KPMG, added: ''March's headline retail and non-food figures may cause concern at first glance, but a late Easter has negatively distorted the numbers.
''Retailers will be on the lookout for a bumper April, with school holidays bringing increased footfall and retail traffic.''