Poor October prompts Christmas retail sales concern
Shoppers shunned the high streets in October as retailers reported one of the largest declines in monthly total sales since January.
The latest Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) survey indicated sales fell by 1.3% from October 2011.
With shop price inflation factored in, the fall was 2.8% in real terms.
Retail experts warned the latest figures sent out a "worrying signal" ahead of the crucial Christmas sales period.
The fall in sales was worse than that seen across the UK - where total sales rose by 1.1% in October.
Total food sales were up by 2.3% from October last year, with shoppers stocking up on Christmas goods and buying comfort food such as traditional puddings, custard and slow-cooked meats.
While total non-food sales were down 4.7%, sales of clothing were described as positive. Stores on Edinburgh's Princes Street said they noticed business picking up after the street re-opened to buses in the summer after 18 months of tram works.
Cold weather at the start of October may have encouraged people to buy new boots, but electrical sales were described as "subdued".
David McCorquodale, head of retail for KPMG, said the figures sent "a worrying signal" about the festive season ahead for retailers in Scotland.
He said that apart from April - when Easter had an impact - the October figures showed the largest decline in total sales since January.
Mr McCorquodale said: "Food and drink sales failed to track inflation and, therefore, reflected a decline in volumes.
"Despite the cold temperatures in October, clothing and footwear sales had good growth in the first week but then faded in the latter half of the month.
"This shows consumers may have bought into autumn and winter collections but are still too nervous to fill their wardrobes with them."
He added: "The recession may officially be over but it will take a little longer for consumers to feel they can spend freely again."
SRC director Fiona Moriarty said the latest figures were "not the result retailers wanted".
She added: "September's modest sales boost offered some cause for cautious optimism, but continuing concerns about the economy led many customers to batten down the hatches again in October.
"With consumer confidence at a six-month low, hopes of sales picking up in the run-up to Christmas will hinge on retailers reading the market closely - that means offering customers opportunities for seasonal spending at competitive prices."