Retail sales continued to grow in May, for the sixth consecutive month, but at a slower pace compared to April, according to the CBI’s latest Quarterly Distributive Trades Survey.

Out of the 136 firms surveyed, 38% of retailers reported that sales volumes were up in May compared to a year ago, while 22% said they were down, giving a positive balance of 16%. This was below expectations, but 43% of retailers expect sales volumes to increase next month, with 13% expecting them to decrease giving a positive balance of 29%.

The strongest sector performance was in footwear and leather, where 61% of retailers reported growth, with furniture and carpets just behind at 60%. Both the hardware and DIY and grocery sectors were up 33%. Online retail sales also rose robustly, but at the slowest pace since June 2013. However, department stores’ volumes declined on a year ago.

Chair of the CBI Distributive Trades Survey Panel Barry Williams said: “Retailers’ predictions of further sales growth bore fruit this month. Although that growth was at a slower rate than expected, the fact we’ve seen a steady increase for six consecutive months is a sign we’re heading towards sustainable growth and strengthening consumer optimism – and it’s good to hear shopkeepers telling us they expect even stronger figures next month.”

Commenting on the figures, Richard Lowe, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays, added: “The early May bank holiday weekend helped to get this month off to a good start, with furniture and DIY outlets performing particularly strongly. Each month brings more positive news about the UK economy and this optimism is continuing to rub off on consumers. The British weather has been predictably unpredictable recently, but retailers will be hoping that any sunnier weather over the coming months will impact positively on footfall and spending.”