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Tough comparatives hit fashion sales in May

Like-for-like retail sales fell 0.8% in May, with fashion and footwear sales among the worst performing sub-categories over the month because of tough comparatives.

Total retail sales rose 0.8% over the month.

The British Retail Consortium said that clothing sales had fallen below last May’s levels despite an improved performance towards the end of the month helped by the hot weather and increased discounting. Within clothing, kidswear performed better than adult clothing. Kidswear sales were helped by the half-term holiday.

“But this May was always going to be difficult because the comparison is with strong May sales last year which delivered some of 2008’s best growth figures.”

Stephen Robertson, director general, British Retail Consortium

Summer dresses, T-shirts and casual tops, shorts and holidaywear were popular, but tailoring, knitwear and suits lagged. Fashion accessories held up, with sunglasses doing well for many.


Footwear sales put in their worst year-on-year performance since April 2008. However the BRC said that the fall was against strong comparatives because the weather in May 2008 had been hotter for longer. Sunny days benefited sandals, canvas and casual shoes but these were not to a sufficient enough level to offset a slow start to the month. The BRC said that the squeeze on discretionary spending continued to favour value ranges. Premium designer ranges still gave gains for some, but middle market remained challenging, with further discounting.

Department Stores

Department stores also saw sales fall, because footfall was hit by sunny weather, though there were some good gains in clothing and footwear on warmer days.

3-month Sales

Non-food retail sales fell 2.4% on a like-for-like basis for the three months March to May. Total non-food retail sales were down 0.5% over the three month period.

Non-store Sales

Internet and mail-order sales in May were 7.6% up on last year, which the BRC said reflected the overall slowdown in retail sales.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “Sun and bank holidays don’t a recovery make.  Warm weather and days-off produced some good performances for seasonal clothing and outdoor living products such as gardening goods and summer food and drink. But this May was always going to be difficult because the comparison is with strong May sales last year which delivered some of 2008’s best growth figures.”   

Robertson added: “The three-month average is up slightly overall but still well down on the rates regularly seen before the slowdown really hit retail a year ago. Negative results show spring has been extremely difficult for most non-food retailers. The turnaround in sales of big-ticket items such as furniture and large electricals, which would indicate real change in the mood of customers, still eludes us.”

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