UK retail sales in May saw highest rise since start of Covid crisis

Shoppers returned to high street after lockdown measures were relaxed.

The British Retail Consortium said total sales increased by 10% in May compared with the same month in 2019.

A report from The Guardian has said that after the reopening of non-essential retail and hospitality venues across all four nations of the UK, pent-up demand among lockdown consumers fuelled a sharp rise in spending, with strong growth in furniture sales and homewares, as well as a recovery in clothing and footwear shops.

Clothes shops reported sales growth of more than 100% as going out returned with the opening of indoor hospitality in May. Following the reopening of physical shops, online sales growth fell back to 39% in May compared with a three-month average of 64%. However, it remains significantly higher than pre-pandemic growth of 1.5% in May 2019.

Figures from Barclaycard showed that spending was up by 7.6% on May 2019’s figure – the highest increase recorded since the first coronavirus restrictions were put in place last spring.

Spending on essential items was bolstered by face-to-face purchases at food and drink specialists, where cardholders paid out 69% more than in May 2019. Barclaycard, which accounts for nearly half of the country’s debit and credit card transactions, said this spending may have been buoyed up by people preparing to host friends and family after the lockdown ends.

Since 17 May, people in England, Wales and most of Scotland have been allowed to host another household indoors, or meet in a group of up to 30 outside, and pubs and restaurants have been able to cater for customers inside. Non-essential retail reopened across the UK in April.

The Barclaycard data included signs of recovery at hospitality venues, although spending remained well below that recorded two years ago. The value of transactions in restaurants was 53% lower than in May 2019, up from a 74% decline in April, and in pubs and bars spending was down by 19%, up from a 67% dip the previous month.