UK retailers report strong May sales after lockdown ends

British Retail Consortium says total sales were 10% higher last month than May two years ago

Shoppers wearing face coverings due to Covid-19, but pulled down under their chin, walk along Oxford Street in central London on June 7, 2021. The Delta variant of the coronavirus, first discovered in India, is estimated to be 40 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant that caused the last wave of infections in the UK, Britain's health minister said Sunday. / AFP / Niklas HALLE'N
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British retailers reported a big boost in sales in May, after lockdown measures ended the month before and a relaxation of Covid restrictions on hospitality drew more shoppers into town centres, industry data showed on Tuesday.

The British Retail Consortium said total sales among its members, which include supermarkets and high street chains, were 10 per cent higher last month than in May two years ago.

This was the biggest increase in sales compared with 2019 for any month since the start of the pandemic.

"The rain in May failed to dampen consumer demand and shoppers continued to return to the high street," said Paul Martin, head of retail at survey sponsor KPMG.

Compared with May 2020, when most non-food retailers were shut due to lockdown restrictions, total sales were 28.4 per cent higher.

Clothes, shoes and furniture saw especially strong gains in sales, the BRC said, benefiting from shoppers being able to view goods in person since non-essential retailers were allowed to reopen in April after months of closure.

Relaxed restrictions on socialising also encouraged shoppers to buy new summer clothes.

Payment processor Barclaycard, which sees almost half of credit and debit card transactions, said consumer spending was 7.6 per cent higher than in May two years ago.

Pubs and restaurants were able to serve customers indoors from May 17, although only at reduced capacity.

Barclaycard said spending at restaurants last month was still 54 per cent below its level two years ago, while spending at pubs and bars was 19 per cent lower.

But this was an improvement from April when sales were down 74 per cent and 67 per cent respectively.

Foreign travel remains highly restricted. Spending with airlines was 74 per cent lower than in May 2019, little better than April.