Fashion and furniture shopping help UK retail sales rebound in May

A rebound in the number of shoppers flocking to fashion and furniture stores helped boost retail sales last month, after wet weather dampened spending in April, according to new official figures.

The quantity of items bought rose by 2.9% in May, following a fall of 1.8% in April, the Office for National Statistics said. April’s data has been revised up from a previous estimate of a 2.3% decrease.

The figure has beaten forecasts, with some economists expecting sales to rise by a softer 1.6% last month.

The volume of sales rose across most sectors last month, compared with April, when poor weather reduced the number of people shopping.

A PA graphic showing change in volume in UK retail sales on previous month, starting with minus 0.7% in May 2023, falling to minus 3.6% in December 2023, climbing to 3.9% in January 2024 and settling at 2.9% in May 2024
(PA Graphics)

Clothing retailers, furniture, footwear, sports equipment, games and toy stores had a strong month, thanks to more visitors, warmer weather and the impact of promotions.

Florists also helped drive a 3.5% increase in total non-food store sales in May, which includes department stores and homeware shops.

This was the biggest monthly rise in three years, the ONS said.

Online clothes shopping also soared by nearly a tenth in May, while the total amount spent online across all sectors rose by 5.4%.

Meanwhile, watches and jewellery retailers and second-hand goods stores were among those seeing a slight fall in spending compared with the previous month.

Experts said that a summer of sporting events is likely to prompt more spending, which could further boost retailers.

“The numerous bank holidays in May provided retailers with a much-needed sales boost, according to the latest figures from the ONS,” said Silvia Rindone, EY’s UK and Ireland retail lead.

“A summer packed with high-profile sporting events such as Uefa Euro 2024 and the Paris Olympics, coupled with better weather and the possibility of political changes, could well be the catalyst for a resurgence in consumer confidence.

“While these upcoming events are beyond retailers’ control, they present a golden opportunity to drive sales.”

Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, head of retail at Deloitte, said the latest figures suggest that “recessionary behaviours are easing”, with more consumers “releasing their purse strings and spending on discretionary items such as clothing and furniture”.

The UK economy dipped into a recession at the end of last year, but returned to growth over the start of 2024.

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