Around 13,000 jobs and turnover worth £3.48 billion were lost in the retail sector during the five years before the pandemic, industry experts have said.
The figures will worsen as the full impact of 2020 becomes clear, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) says, accelerating existing trends of consumers moving their shopping online.
The trade body has published its 34-page manifesto ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections in May, calling for a national retail strategy to support the sector.
It also wants to see a moratorium on new policies which will affect retailers for a year after coronavirus is suppressed.
Analysing Scottish Government figures, the SRC said 13,000 retail jobs were lost between 2016 and 2018 while £3.48 billion in annual turnover was lost from the industry between 2014 and 2018.
SRC director David Lonsdale said: “This Holyrood election comes as the industry hits the very apex of the current retail revolution.
“Covid has accelerated the existing trends in retail: including driving customers towards digital, weakened demand, and put retailers under unparalleled pressure.
“Last year saw the worst-ever retail sales figures, a six-year peak in shop vacancies and shopper footfall slump by a third; which comes off the back of three years which saw 13,000 retail jobs lost and a £3.48 billion reduction in annual turnover since 2014.
“Retail was already in a difficult position before 2020 and Covid, with ever high property and people costs combining with complex, intrusive and often contradictory policies exacerbating weak economic growth.
“The next Scottish Government and MSPs will have to respond to this reality.”
He continued: “A more coherent approach to the industry led by a retail strategy which protects ordinary consumers and provides a competitive tax system will provide a framework that can help retail to recover.
“The choices made by the next parliament come at a pivotal moment for the industry and its 230,000 workers.
“The right reforms will let retail evolve to play a vital role in the road to economic recovery after Covid.
“Conversely, if the opportunity is lost then there could be severe consequences for businesses and communities across Scotland.”