May retail sales rebound after record lows but shops still suffering

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May retail sales rebound after record lows but shops still suffering
Online shopping hit a new high in May, making up 33.4% of all sales, compared with 30.8% in April.
// Retail sales in May rose 12% on April, according to the latest figures from the ONS
// However, they were still down 13.1% when compared to February, before the pandemic really struck
// Non-food sales surged 42% while food sales slipped 0.3% due to tough comparisons after a period of stockpiling

Retailers saw a much-needed boost in sales last month compared with the record lows in April as lockdown turned high streets into ghost towns, according to the ONS.

Sales volumes in May jumped 12 per cent compared with the previous month, although they were still down 13.1 per cent versus February, before the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic was felt.

Officials said non-food stores saw the biggest boost, helped with a 42 per cent increase in household goods store sales and after the government added DIY and hardware stores to the list of essential retailers that could open during lockdown.


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B&Q resumed trading last month with huge queues of shoppers in car parks, desperate for a DIY fix, while Ikea reopened earlier this month, with hour-long lines of customers waiting to get in.

Meanwhile online shopping hit a new high, making up 33.4 per cent of all sales, compared with 30.8 per cent in April.

ONS added that on a three-month measure to May, the volume of retail sales decreased by a record 12.8 per cent, with declines across all stores except food and non-store retailing.

During the month, the ONS also found that the rate of growth in online-only retailers increased strongly, rising 24.3 per cent in the three months to May and up 21 per cent compared with April.

However, with households stockpiling food and home products in March, food stores saw a slight decline in the amount of goods sold – down 0.3 per cent – as shoppers worked their way through the extra food in their cupboards.

The overall data was slightly skewed though, due to fuel sales typically accounting for just over 10.4 per cent of total retail sales – with most supermarkets selling fuel from forecourts on their retail sites.

In May it only accounted for 5.5 per cent of total revenues.

As travel restrictions eased in May, fuel sales rose 49.1 per cent compared with April.

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