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Fashion sales score first gains since August

Like-for-like retail sales in May rose 1.9%, with fashion scoring its first positive sales growth since August 2007 according to the British Retail Consortium.

Fashion sales were up 3% like for like in May boosted by the warm and sunny weather early in the month. However the BRC said the figures were flattering as they came up against soft year-earlier figures when the weather was very wet.

The BRC said that the sunshine had prompted shoppers to buy summer clothes in earnest, encouraged by several special Sales days as well as continued heavy discounting and promotions. Blouses, dresses, lightweight tops, shorts and beachwear performed strongly. Kidswear also benefited and continued to outperform womenswear and menswear. Designer fashions continued to show gains for some retailers.

Footwear sales also rose, up 1% like for like over the month. Sandals and summer casuals benefited from the warm weather, and smart shoes for work held up. However the BRC said that the widespread and aggressive discounting persisted and the underlying trend remained difficult for the footwear sector. The squeeze on discretionary spending continued to favour value ranges, but premium designer lines still scored gains for some retailers selling footwear.

Department stores had a difficult month, despite special events and promotions. The warm weather hit footfall, but there was some uplift in clothing and footwear sales because of discounting.

The mail order sector also showed improvement, with clothing and footwear helping to drive gains.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: "After several mostly miserably months, warm sunny weather finally arrived in May and helped lift customers' gloom. Significantly clothing sales saw year-on-year growth for the first time since last August, while sales of footwear, outdoor leisure and gardening tools also rose. But we are not out of the woods yet. The economic fundamentals remain weak. BRC/Nielsen consumer confidence figures show the economy is the major concern for a third of people. 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."

KPMG head of retail Helen Dickinson added: "Clothing sales growth performed much more in line with food in pound (as opposed to volume) terms which is the first time for many months, with women's and children's footwear being the highlights."

For a full breakdown of the BRC's monthly sales monitor for May see the graphs below.

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