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UK retail sales slip as consumers focus on restaurants over food shopping

·2-min read
Restaurants reopened from the latest lockdown  in April 2021 (PA Wire)
Restaurants reopened from the latest lockdown in April 2021 (PA Wire)

UK retail sales slipped in May as food shopping was hit by the public heading back to reopened restaurants, but overall volumes are still above pre-pandemic levels.

The Office for National Statistics said retail sales decreased by 1.4% between April and May, following a leap in April- the month when ‘non essential’ retailers, such as clothing and jewellery brands, were finally allowed to welcome back customers in store following months of closure.

However, over April and May combined, average total retail sales volumes were still 7.7% higher than in March, when much of the high street was closed. They were also 9.1% higher than in February 2020 before the pandemic.

Last month the decline was led by a 5.7% decrease in food store sales volumes.

Darren Morgan, ONS director of economic statistics, said feedback suggested the reopening of hospitality meant consumers took advantage of eating out instead.

The restaurant and pub industry reopened for al fresco dining on April 12, and could start serving indoors from May 17.

Karen Johnson, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays Corporate Banking, said: “Pent-up consumer demand will be key to the success of UK retail in the months ahead, but as lockdown continues to ease we are seeing retailers’ share of wallet reduce slightly as the public enjoys more and more choice on where to spend their hard-earned pounds.”

The ONS’ Morgan also said: “Household goods stores and garden centres fared well as people spent money on improving their gardens in anticipation of the summer and the lifting of restrictions on outdoor gatherings.”

The ONS said the proportion of retail sales done online remains substantially above pre-Covid levels. But in May all retail sectors, with the exception of food stores, reported a fall in their proportions of digital sales as consumers returned to physical stores.

The total proportion of sales online decreased to 28.5% in May, down from 29.8% in the previous month.

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