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Sterling-rich tourists bring relief for Scottish indies

Independent retailers in Scotland are relying on an uplift in tourist spend to help them ride out the end of a challenging summer season.

Retail sales in Scotland decreased by 1.4% year on year in June, as a slight uplift in the grocery sector failed to offset a poor performance in fashion and other non-food categories, data collated by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and KPMG has shown.

While it did not give a breakdown for clothing sales within the non-food category, the SRC said: “Promotions were prevalent, with some retailers bringing their Sales period forward to help stimulate demand. Seasonal lines were hit the hardest as the unsettled weather set in. 

“All three [clothing] segments reported disappointing sales, with women’s and children’s more impacted than the men’s segment.”

Independents Drapers spoke to this week painted a mixed picture of trading.

“I have noticed people being really cautious, coming in and browsing, and not always committing – being much more choosey about things. Times are tough right now,” said Adele Crombie, owner of women’s denim specialist ALC in Edinburgh.

She said some multiples and department stores in the city have been discounting “really aggressively”: “They’re reducing prices dramatically to shift stock and get new stuff in.”

However, she said this July had been better than last year’s: “It’s because of the tourists. Americans are normally hard for me to convert because they change the price in pounds back to dollars and it sounds like a lot to them. But, because the pound is quite weak, in June and July I’ve had tons of Americans and Australians in. It’s keeping me ticking over.”

Jane Forbes, owner of womenswear independent Frontiers, also in Edinburgh, agreed: “In the last few weeks there have been Italians, Spanish, French and Americans. There are definitely more Americans here this summer. The strength of the pound is very good for them.”

She added that many people in Scotland were “devastated” by the vote to leave the European Union, but it had not had any visible impact on trading: “I was expecting some decline in sales, but it’s been fine.”

Karen Hume, ecommerce and operations director at A Hume in Kelso, in the Scottish borders, echoed this: “There’s been zero effect. Our sales are up, both in store and online.”

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