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Fashion sales fall in May as consumers unwilling to spend

Sales of clothing and footwear dipped in May, with only occasionwear and tailoring showing some uplift, as customers demonstrated an “unwillingness” to spend and continued to look for special deals and promotions.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, UK retail like-for-like sales values across all sectors fell by 2.1% in May compared to the same month a year ago when sales had risen 0.8%.

On a total basis sales were down 0.3% against a rise of 3% in May 2010.

Over the three months from March to May like-for-like non-food sales fell 2% with total non-food sales falling by 0.8%.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “After two previous months distorted by the later Easter and extra bank holiday, this is a more realistic reflection of how tough conditions on the high street really are.”

Robertson said the first half of May was better than the second for retailers as poor weather conditions in the second half of the month had an impact on spending but overall the figures and indicative of a wider reluctance to spend when household incomes continue to be squeezed.

He added: “Households’ disposable incomes continue to be squeezed by uncomfortably high inflation and low wage growth, while uncertainty over the effects of Government cuts is hitting consumers’ sentiment about future finances. This new evidence of weak spending shows how important it is to support this soft patch in the recovery by keeping interest rates low.”  


Sales of clothing fell back below their year-earlier level, weakening later in the month as the weather cooled. Kidswear suffered most, but had been strongest in April.

Womenswear remained weaker than menswear but in the sunny first half, dresses, casual tops and light knits did well.

Occasionwear and tailoring showed some uplift with men’s formalwear showing gains for some retailers, and casual shirts, shorts and tops selling well in the sun.

Shoppers continued to look out for special deals and promotions, often holding off buying until they saw good value or needed the item. Accessories were generally weaker for most.


Overall sales of footwear dropped back to show a year-on-year fall for the first time since August 2009, against a backdrop of a strong sun-driven April and a good May the previous year.

Women’s and kid’s footwear were hardest hit, having been stronger than men’s in April. The sun earlier in the month gave some boost to sandals but many people seemed to be waiting for further discounts or more certainty about their incomes and jobs before buying.

Ballerina pumps and smarter styles which could be worn for work as well as leisure showed gains for some.

Department Stores

Footfall was boosted in the cooler second half of May but trade was still slow as shoppers remained cautious.

Special events and promotions helped some but clothing and footwear sales were definitely affected as the weather cooled.

Internet and Mail Order

Non-food non-store sales showed slower growth than the previous month, which was helped by Easter and bank holidays, but the contrast between April and May was much less stark than for retailing as whole.

New catalogues and more use of emailed discount vouchers helped non-store sales but the big driver continues to be the strong underlying growth of online retailing, particularly via mobile devices.

Readers' comments (2)

  • S12 forward orders will prove interesting after what is becoming a very difficult season, especially in the denim market. Any brand with excessive minimums and unworkable criteria will shown the door by many indies as trade dictates - not the dictators.

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  • agents be prepared for smaller commitment for sp 12, its been a tough season so far only the fittest will continue

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