The slump in retail sales moderated slightly in May, new figures show, as good weather and the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions boosted sales.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG said sales fell by 5.9% in May. While it marks the second worst monthly decline since the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor began in 1995, it is still an improvement on April’s decline of 19.1%.
“Sales in May demonstrated yet another month of struggle for retailers across the country, despite an improvement on the previous month,” said Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the BRC.
“Nonetheless, as the sun came out and restaurants lay dormant, food sales rose with consumers taking to their local parks for beers, BBQs and picnics.”
The government last month began allowing people to meet those from other households in limited numbers as long as they remained outside. The gradual easing, combined with unusually good weather, led to large numbers flocking to Britain’s parks and beaches last month.
BRC and KPMG found record growth in online sales last month, tallying with the findings of BDO’s rival high street sales tracker.
Online non-food sales — everything from furniture to cosmetics — grew by 60% in May, BRC and KPMG said. The percentage of Brits shopping online rose from 31% in May 2019 to 62% last month. Dickinson said sales of office supplies, fitness equipment and bicycles performed particularly well.
Non-essential retailers are allowed to reopen from the 15 June but Dickinson said consumers were not expected to flood back to the high street.
“Weak consumer confidence and social distancing rules are likely to hold back sales,” she said.
“Furthermore, there are concerns that if government support is withdrawn too quickly, shops and businesses will not survive. Until the situation improves, retailers urgently need support on rents and negotiations with their landlords as high fees could force some physical retailers to shut for good.”
Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “We’re also witnessing historically high levels of sales transacted online – currently over 60% – and while this will ease as more stores open, consumers have formed new habits that will see the online channel continue to be more prominent going forward.”