Retailers had one of their best months in recent years in May as warm weather and the royal wedding tempted consumers back into the shops.
In the latest sign that growth has picked up after a grim first three months of 2018, the health check of high street spending from the British Retail Consortium and KPMG reported total sales up by 4.1%.
A separate report from Barclaycard found that consumer spending grew by just over 5% in May, its fastest in more than a year.
However, amid evidence that the construction sector is being hit by the spate of high street store closures, the BRC chief executive, Helen Dickinson, warned that the outlook for retailers remained tough. Almost 6,000 shops closed in 2017 – the highest since the economy was emerging from the deep recession caused by the financial crisis of 2008-09 – and well-known brands including Marks & Spencer, Mothercare and House of Fraser are planning further closures this year.
“Retail sales in May saw their highest growth since January 2014 as better weather and the bank holiday effect led shoppers to buy from garden furniture and summer fashion ranges; recovering some of the ground lost in April,” Dickinson said. “Food sales also stood out, with the best single month’s performance since July 2013.”
Over the latest three months – a better guide to the underlying trend – sales growth weakened by 1.2%. Spending earlier in the year was affected by the squeeze on consumer spending and the unexpectedly severe weather caused by the “beast from the east”.
Dickinson said: “Despite this more positive set of sales results, the retail environment remains extremely challenging, with trend growth still very low by historical standards.”
Paul Martin, KPMG’s UK head of retail, said: “Two bank holiday weekends, a royal wedding and of course sunnier spells will have been the main drivers behind the apparent rebound, with both online and high street sales thankfully up overall.”