Retail sales fall in May at fastest rate in 24 years

IF ONLY . . . retailers would welcome their centres being this busy. But retail sales across the UK fell at their fastest rate in 24 years in May
Gary McDonald Business Editor

SHOPPERS shunned the high street last month in greater numbers than in a generation, shock new data shows

Sales plummeted 2.7 per cent in May, faster than at any time in the last 24 years (since January 1995), according to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

There was an even bigger 3 per cent fall in May compared with the same period a year ago on a like-for-like basis - the steepest drop since December 2008 - when Easter distortions are excluded.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly described the figures as hugely disappointing.

And he said the fact that sales dropped across the board, with declines in everything from food to footwear, and even online, meant that shoppers were simply keeping their wallets shut.

"This will put more pressure on retailers who are already squeezed with a rates system in Northern Ireland that unfairly burdens them, at a time when firms are already grappling with other government-imposed cost rises and with one in every seven shops in our town centres lying vacant," he said.

"The cumulative burden of tax and regulatory costs has mushroomed over recent years and is accelerating the pace of change within the retail industry, as firms seek to reinvent themselves in the face of profound changes in shopping habits.

"The retail industry will do its bit to entice shoppers to spend their time and money in our towns and cities, but we need the local political parties to get back to the Executive to make bold mission critical decisions that support our industry and the ninety thousand jobs we sustain."

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), warned the poor figures could lead to further store closures and job losses in a year that has already seen several retailers go bust - including HMV, Debenhams and LK Bennett.

She added: "While May 2018 offered almost unbroken sunshine, topped off by the run up to the World Cup and the marriage of Meghan and Harry, May 2019 delivered political and economic uncertainty."

Food sales dropped for the first time since June 2016, and there were also falls in sales of clothing, footwear and outdoor goods compared with a month earlier.

Although, over the three-month period to May, food sales increased 0.8 per cent on a like-for-like basis and 1.9 per cent on a total basis, thanks to stronger trading in March and April.

During the same three-month period, in-store sales of non-food products declined 2.7 per cent on both a total and like-for-like basis - worse than the 12 month total average fall of 2.4 per cent.

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, pointed out that growth in online sales was also slower than usual.

He warned: "The extremely low growth online is real cause for concern, especially with almost a third of all non-food sales today being made online.

"This trend has continued to manifest itself over the last year and requires real focus from the retail community."

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