The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said many retailers across Tayside and Fife will be toasting the end of 2020 after a “strange and brutal year ended a difficult decade”.
Director of the SRC, David Lonsdale highlighted the impact of the coronavirus had been particularly hard on high street businesses, with many forced to close for 14 weeks.
Mr Lonsdale said the lockdown came at a time when the retail sector was already in the middle of a fundamental transformation when the virus struck.
He said: “The impact of the pandemic, the covid lockdowns and restrictions, and economic uncertainty has profoundly affected consumer behaviour, at least in the short term.
“Shopper footfall has plummeted by two fifths in Scotland, and shop vacancies have spiked to a five-year high.
“Non-food stores like clothing, footwear and beauty have been particularly affected – we’ve seen the consequence of that in recent weeks as some high street stalwarts tumbled under the unprecedented combination of pressures.”
Mr Lonsdale warned there may be more retail casualties to come in 2021, especially if there are further lockdowns.
“2021 will start with retailers appraising how well they have done in Christmas trading – and unless there are good results there may be further tough decisions to be made on stores and retail jobs.
“It won’t just be about trading though, the Scottish Government’s upcoming budget and the impact of our relationship with the EU will also affect how retailers can plan for 2021,” he said.
However, the covid pandemic has accelerated the process of retail revolution already underway within the sector, in particular a noticeable uplift in online shopping.
He said: “That has difficult consequences for some businesses, but also provides immense opportunities.
“Those retailers who have adapted through covid, building a strong offer which works for customers, online and in-store, will have the opportunity to thrive as the populace is vaccinated and we begin return to normal.
“After a difficult few years for the industry, 2021 may provide a chance for retail to emerge into the sunlight.”
Mr Lonsdale also praised shop workers across Tayside and Fife who “have responded magnificently during the pandemic.”
Looking to the Holyrood election in 2021, Mr Lonsdale said there needs to be a thorough debate about how the next devolved government and parliament will help lift the country’s rate of economic expansion.
“With a supportive policy environment the retail industry will emerge from this crisis recast,” he said.