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Sunny weather boosts retail sales in May

Fine weather and two bank holidays helped lift UK retail sales out of the doldrums last month.

The latest Retail Sales Monitor from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG reports that UK retail sales in May saw their highest growth since January 2014, with overall sales increasing by 4.1%.

Food sales outperformed non-food sales; however, online sales of non-food items grew 11.9% in May, compared to growth of 4.3% in May 2017.

Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, said: “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. Food sales also stood out with the best single month’s performance since July 2013.”

However, recent national events failed to encourage more shopping, she said. “The FA Cup Final and Royal Wedding may have got the nation in the mood for celebration but the day itself was a distraction for shoppers as they stayed at home to watch the festivities; sales also tailed off once the party was over.”

However, the report concludes that the UK retail environment remains challenging. Paul Martin, head of retail at KPMG said: “While the month’s figures may paint a rosier picture, there is no room for complacency. The market is increasingly being split into winners and losers, with a number of legacy players continuing to face extremely challenging conditions.”

Also this week, a report from the Local Data Company has found that UK store vacancies as a whole went up from 19.7% to 19.9% ion 2017. But it says that smaller shopping centres are suffering more than the UK’s top 50 shopping centres, where vacancies fell.

Other key findings include:

  • The loss of service retail units, such as banks, estate agents and travel agents, overtook the loss of convenience shops, reversing the trend in 2016;
  • Barbers and beauty salons saw the biggest openings by sector, with 624 new outlets in 2017;
  • There were 747 pub closures and 711 bank branch closures;
  • The number of vegan outlets rose 61.5%, at the expense of vegetarian restaurants. The number of Jamaican, Brazilian and Argentinian restaurants increased.

Lucy Stainton, LDC’s senior relationship manager, said: “There is no denying that retail is going through an unprecedented era of change, but as our latest research highlights, it’s crucial to get underneath the overarching trends to understand the detail beneath this, giving us a glimpse of our future high street.”