May retail like-for-like sales jumped 1.8% year on year boosted by the improved weather and strong sales in furniture and flooring.
It was a return to growth after last month’s like-for-like fall of 2.2%.
The British Retail Consortium-KMPG Retail Sales Monitor found total sales in May increased 3.4% - the same as in May last year. May’s total growth was also above the three-month average of 2.3% and the 12-month average of 2.5%.
Food like-for-like sales across the three months edged up 0.7%. Sales of meats, picnic snacks and salad were up as customers enjoyed barbeques in the warmer weather at the beginning of the month, and total food sales advanced 2.8%.
Over the three-month period non-food sales increased 0.7% on a like-for-like basis and 1.9% in total. Furniture and flooring was the best performing category in the month for the first time since January 2011. According to the BRC, retailers’ promotions and the cooler weather towards the end of the month drove sales.
BRC director-general Helen Dickinson said: “Retailers pulled off a good result in May despite contending with topsy-turvy temperatures and continued economic difficulties. The first month since February to be free of Easter timing distortions showed positive total growth in every category and overall growth well above the 12-month average.
“May was a month of two halves for weather, meaning that retailers had to stay one step ahead when planning their promotional activity.
“The signs are that retailers read conditions well in May and adapted their offer accordingly. Customers are still price-conscious but responding well to good deals, especially for big-ticket items. But volatile economic conditions mean that this will remain a delicate balancing act for some time to come.”
Online sales surged 11% in the month, compared with a 12.4% increase in May 2012 as clothing and footwear performed well and popularity of click-and-collect helped.
KPMG head of retail David McCorquodale said: “To some extent retailers had their bacon saved by online sales, underlining the growing importance of the digital channel. Online sales growth helped to counter variable performances on the high street as many chose to take advantage of the same promotional offers from their sofas.”