Royal wedding and sunny weather help boost May retail figures
Better weather brought some muchneeded respite to Britain’s struggling retail sector last month as the hottest May on record brought consumers back to the high street.
The volume of goods sold in shops and online was 1.3% up on April – comfortably beating predictions in the financial markets of a 0.5% increase.
The Office for National Statistics said feedback from retailers suggested that a hot, dry spell, coupled with royal wedding celebrations, boosted spending in supermarkets and household goods stores during the month.
“Temperatures rose to above average in May, which contrasts with the lower than average temperatures experienced in February and March. This shift to warmer weather may have encouraged consumers to spend later in the year”, the ONS said.
Annual growth in retail sales picked up sharply from 1.4% to 1.9%, although the ONS said that was partly due to a weak month for consumer spending in May 2017.
Traditional high-street retailers have been facing tough trading conditions, with a shift towards online shopping accompanied by a squeeze on real incomes throughout 2017 caused by the falling value of the pound following the EU referendum.
Recent months have seen earnings grow slightly more quickly than prices, adding to consumer spending power.
In the three months to May – a better guide to the trend than one month’s data – retail sales volumes rose by 0.9%. The latest three-month period includes both the weakness caused by the “beast from the east” cold snap in early March and the more recent bounce back in consumer spending.
Samuel Tombs, of PantheonMacro, said: “The jump in retail sales in May has all the hallmarks of a weatherrelated blip, rather than a sustainable pick-up in spending. Overall growth was boosted by sharp increases in sales of clothing, sporting goods and garden items, up 1.7%, 3.3% and 6.2% monthto-month, respectively.”
While retailers are hopeful that the World Cup will encourage spending in June and July, the pick-up has come too late to prevent almost 6000 store closures during 2017.
Fashion retailer N Brown, owner of brands including Jacamo and Simply Be, became the latest high street casualty yesterday. The company said it plans to close all 20 of its UK stores, with the loss of 270 jobs.