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Indoor hospitality reopening lifts retail sales in May

Tom Bottomley
08 June 2021

The reopening of indoor hospitality on 17 May, 2021, in England and Wales boosted retail sales for the month of May, according the latest data from the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

In the four weeks covering 2-29 May, total sales increased by 10% compared to pre-pandemic May 2019, above the three-month average growth of 8.5%.

UK retail sales increased 23.7% on a like-for-like sales basis from May 2019, when they had decreased 3% from the preceding year. Online sales have played a far greater role in like-for-like sales, increasing the growth rate significantly.

Over the three months to May, in-store sales of non-food items declined 16.7% on a total sales basis and increased 27.1% on a like-for-like sales basis. That’s worse than the 2019 total sales average decline of 3.1%. For the month of May, in-store non-food sales were negative, though much improved from previous months.

However, over the three-months to May, non-food retail sales increased by 7.5% on a total sales basis and 38% on a like-for-like sales basis. This is above the 2019 total sales average decline of 1.3%. For the month of May, non-food was in growth year-on-year.

Online non-food sales increased by 39.1% in May, against a growth of 1.5% in May 2019. That’s below the three-month average of 64.4%.

The non-food online penetration rate decreased from to 39.8% in May 2021 from 61.5% in May 2020, but was up from 31.4% in May 2019.

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium (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.

“There is a growing sense of consumer confidence, boosted not only by the widespread uptake of vaccinations and testing, but also retailers’ own significant investment in safety measures.

Large cities have been hardest hit by the pandemic, with so many people still working from home and footfall remaining considerably down as shoppers increasingly choose to shop local. Now is the time to consider what our future high streets and town centres will look like a decade from now.

"We must adapt to these changes, not only to build back better but also to build forward. With vacancy rates still rising in many parts of the country, we must reimagine how we integrate residential and commercial property, allowing us to build stronger local communities that encompass leisure, retail, services, and homes. This will require retailers, property developers and local government to work together and plan city centres that cater to these changing demands and truly innovate the high street model.”

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