Retail sales grew in May at their strongest rate since the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK last March as the reopening of hospitality venues boosted footfall and spend. 

Total sales increased 10% in May compared with the same month in 2019, according to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor. That outstripped the 7.3% gains made in April on a two-year basis and the 8.3% growth recorded in March. 

Like-for-like sales jumped 23.7% last month compared with May 2019, a period in which sales decreased 3% from the previous year.

Online growth played a significant role in the surging sales figures with non-food ecommerce sales climbing 39.1% on May 2019 levels.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG said that the ongoing easing of social-distancing restrictions and continued pent-up demand for in-store shopping drove the spike in sales during May.

Fashion, footwear, furniture and homewares retailers all registered sales uplifts. 

Non-food sales overall were up 7.5% in the three months to the end of May, compared with the same period in 2019, while food sales increased 9.8%. 


BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Retail sales were buoyant in May thanks to the reopening of hospitality, coupled with the afterglow of non-essential retail’s own return.

“Pent-up demand for the in-store shopping experience, as well as the first signs of summer weather, helped retail to the strongest sales growth of the pandemic.

“There is a growing sense of consumer confidence, boosted not only by the widespread uptake of vaccinations and testing, but also retailers’ own significant investment in safety measures.”

She added: “Large cities have been hardest hit by the pandemic, with so many people still working from home and footfall remaining considerably down as shoppers increasingly choose to shop local. Now is the time to consider what our future high streets and town centres will look like a decade from now.”

KPMG UK head of retail Paul Martin said: “The rain in May failed to dampen consumer demand and shoppers continued to return to the high street. Clothing retailers were the biggest beneficiaries of pent-up demand, clocking up increases of more than 100% as an easing of restrictions saw stores reopen and social events slowly come back on the agenda.

“Although some spend has migrated to the high street, there was still high penetration of online spending in May, reinforcing the view that the pandemic has seen a step-up in online activity as some consumers maintain their use of this channel out of habit and choice, and some remain nervous about venturing back into stores.”

Rival data from Barclaycard suggested that consumer spending rose 7.9% in May compared with the comparable period in 2019. Spending on essential items climbed 11.4% – the sharpest increase since the pandemic began. 

Spending on non-essential purchases grew 5.8% as the amount spent on clothing increased 8.5%. Spending in non-essential retailers’ physical stores was up 8%.