A glimpse of the sun tempted consumers into the shops last month, according to figures showing the first rise in retail sales since February.
But there were warnings not to take too much heart from the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) findings as widespread discounting by retailers contributed to May’s boost in sales.
The BRC said like-for-like sales rose 1.9 per cent last month, with clothing sales up on last year for the first time in nine months, alongside a growth food and drink sales.
May’s sunny weather saw people splash out on summer clothes such as shorts and blouses as well as barbecue foods, soft fruit, beers and soft drinks.
But the summery mood was not felt in homeware and furniture, where sales continued to fall.
“Big ticket” purchases, such as washing machines and fridges, also continued to slow as cash-strapped consumers put off making more expensive purchases.
Last month’s increase provides some relief from March and April’s gloomy findings.
Retail sales dropped 1.6 per cent year-on-year in March, followed by a 1.5 per cent fall in April as consumer confidence was hit by housing market and economic worries.
KPMG head of retail Helen Dickinson said: “May’s figures represent a significant improvement on the previous couple of months and were achieved through a much more consistent performance across the different sectors, the exception being anything home-related, particularly big-ticket electricals which continue to struggle.”
“However, promotional activity across all sectors was the order of the day and, as the weekly performance deteriorated as the month progressed, along with the weather, there will be few hailing May’s results as the benchmark for the coming months,” she said.
Two major supermarkets recently announced price cuts across their ranges - Tesco has put an extra 1,000 products on promotion and Morrisons is making 2,000 price cuts throughout its range.
The BRC’s May figures showed that on a three-month basis, retail sales figures fell 0.5 per cent. BRC director general Stephen Robertson said retailers were “not out of the woods yet” despite May’s year-on-year rise.
“The housing slowdown and tighter household budgets meant that, despite heavy discounting, furniture sales were well down on a year ago and there was a continued slowdown for electrical goods,” he said.
Department store John Lewis last week reported a fourth week of negative trading figures, including a 9.6 per cent drop in sales at its store in Solihull.