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Retail sales suffer sharpest decline on record

Total retail sales slumped by 2.7% year on year in May, excluding Easter distortions – the steepest decline since records began in 1995.

However, this was against the tough comparative of a 4.1% increase in May 2018, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG Retail Sales Monitor showed. 

Like-for-like retail sales were down 3% year on year during the period, which ran from 28 April to 25 May. 

Despite the two bank holiday weekends in May, the at-times unpleasant weather “did little to convince fashion-minded shoppers to refresh their seasonal wardrobes,” said Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG.

Non-food retail sales in the UK fell 1.1% year on year for the three months to May, on both a total and like-for-like basis. In-store non-food sales fell by 2.7%.

Online sales of non-food products grew at a rate of just 1.5% year on year, which the BRC and KPMG said was “an all-time low”. 

The non-food online penetration rate increased from 28.2% in May 2018 to 30.3% last month.

BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said: “With the biggest decline in retail sales on record, the risk of further job losses and store closures will only increase. 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, with further declines in clothing, footwear and outdoor goods.

“With retail conditions the toughest they have been for a decade, politicians must support the reinvention of our high streets and local communities.”

She also warned that business rates are preventing retailers from investing in bricks and mortar, and said the system is “broken”.

KPMG’s Martin added: ”May’s staggering fall is a stark reminder of the industry’s ongoing issues, which for many require urgent attention.

“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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