Shopping surges in May after pandemic restrictions ease

·3-min read

Retail sales soared in May as the further easing of lockdown restrictions helped to drive spending, according to new figures.

The latest BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor revealed that total sales surged by 10% in May, against the same period in 2019, after the sector benefited from the first month that non-essential stores fully reopened and the return of many hospitality venues.

It came as separate data from Barclaycard revealed that consumer spending jumped 7.6% for the month as increased socialising helped to spark clothing sales.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the reopening of many retailers in April and May helped increase sales but highlighted that non-food store sales were still in decline in May, against the same month two years ago.

Over the three months to May, in-store non-food sales were down by 16.7%.

However, for the same period, food sales increased by 9.8% as grocery sales continued to be boosted by restrictions on the hospitality sector.

Online sales continue to drive retail growth in May, with non-food online sales jumping by 39.1% for the month.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Retail sales were buoyant in May thanks to the reopening of hospitality, coupled with the afterglow of non-essential retail’s own return.

“Pent-up demand for the instore shopping experience, as well as the first signs of summer weather, helped retail to the strongest sales growth of the pandemic.

“Furniture and homeware sales continued to perform well as consumers were able to see and feel items instore, while clothing and footwear saw their second consecutive month of growth due to the warmer weather and easing of social restrictions.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “With the prospect of the full lifting of Covid restrictions coming into force this month, there will be increased competition for share of wallet as consumers focus on those leisure and hospitality activities that have been denied to them due to lockdown.

“It is a summer that starts with cautious optimism for many retailers, who will be hoping that the continued success of the vaccine rollout and an improving economy will offer scope to spark a big surge in consumer spending.”

Meanwhile, Barclaycard’s consumer spending report for May showed that spending on essential items increased by 11.4% against the same month in 2019.

It said this was bolstered by 17.7% leap in supermarket shopping, which has continued to be elevated by the pandemic.

However, the figures also showed significant improvements for the hospitality sector as more restrictions were eased, with pubs reporting a 19.4% decline for the month, improving from a fall of about two-thirds in April.

Spending in non-essential stores also increased, rising 8%, as a result of weakened restrictions, with clothing stores reporting a sales jump.

Raheel Ahmed, head of consumer products at Barclaycard, said: “May was a positive month for a range of categories, with the nation clearly determined to show support for retailers and local businesses.

“As friends and families reunited after months apart, it is reassuring to see signs of recovery for the entertainment and hospitality industries, both of which have faced significant challenges over the past year.

“While international holidays continue to be hampered by restrictions, staycations in the UK are providing a welcome boost to the travel sector, as May saw more holidaymakers, particularly in the older age groups, book or embark on trips.”

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