Retail sales plunge at fastest pace in 24 years, prompting fears of further job losses and store closures

Retail sales plunged last month by the most in at least 24 years as problems facing UK high streets deepened.

Sales slumped 2.7 per cent in May, the largest drop ever recorded in the British Retail Consortium and KPMG monitor which has been going since January 1995.

Like-for-like sales, taking out the effect of the timing of Easter, fell 3 per cent in the four weeks to 25 May compared to the same period a year ago.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), warned the poor figures could lead to further store closures and job losses in a year that has already seen several retailers go bust - including HMV, Debenhams and LK Bennett.

She added: “While May 2018 offered almost unbroken sunshine, topped off by the run up to the World Cup and the marriage of Meghan and Harry, May 2019 delivered political and economic uncertainty.”

Food sales dropped for the first time since June 2016, and there were also falls in sales of clothing, footwear and outdoor goods compared with a month earlier.

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, pointed out that growth in online sales was also slower than usual.

He warned: “The extremely low growth online is real cause for concern, especially with almost a third of all non-food sales today being made online.

“This trend has continued to manifest itself over the last year and requires real focus from the retail community.”