Retail sales fell in May but clothing sector continues to recover from pandemic, says ONS  

Retail sales fell by 1.4 per cent between April and May 2021 as shoppers bought less at the supermarket and dined at pubs and restaurants, reveal the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The largest contribution to the decline came from food stores, where transactions fell by 5.7 per cent. Clothing and department stores also reported monthly declines of 2.5 per cent and 6.7 per cent respectively. However, this follows strong growth in previous months and figures highlight continued recovery for these sectors, with clothing sales rising by 28.9 per cent in the three months to May 2021.

Online sales also fell for the third month in a row, however the ONS says the value of retail sales online in May 2021 was still 58.8 per cent higher than in February 2020 before the impact of the pandemic.

Despite the monthly decline over April and May combined, average total retail sales volumes were still 7.7 per cent higher than in March 2021 and 9.1 per cent higher than in February 2020 before the impact of the pandemic.

Maddy Alexander-Grout, founder of the small retail business national discount scheme My VIP Card, comments: “After so long eating in, it’s no surprise people started to eat out in May. Pubs and restaurants once again being able to let people inside triggered a deluge of eager punters.

“Even though it couldn’t match April, when non-essential retail reopened, one of the wettest Mays on record provided a certain boost to retailers, as being inside shops meant you could at least take a break from the rain.

“In recent weeks, the retail businesses we work with have seen a fall in sales, probably due to the much-improved weather drawing people to outdoor activities.

“Every retailer, like businesses in other sectors, has one eye on what’s going to happen when the furlough scheme is stopped.

“Looking forward, local councils need to think of ways to bring more people into the high street, in the form of free parking, bus ticket reductions and somehow make the high street more of a destination rather than just about shopping.

“Retailers need help to secure footfall and councils have the power to help.”