Sharp drop in UK retail sales as shoppers tighten purse strings
Retail sales across the UK fell by 2.7% in May, the steepest decline on record, the British Retail Consortium has said.
The figure has slightly been distorted by the strong performance of retail during May 2018, when sales shot up by 4.1%, setting a four-year record.
Sales of food items actually increased over the three months to May, but were dragged down by a drop in non-food items. Aodhan Connolly, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, said it was "disappointing" that sales dropped across the board.
While the online sale of non-food items rose 1.5% in May, that rate of growth represented an all-time low for online shopping, and a sharp contrast to the 11.5% growth in May 2018.
The retail spokesman said it was a sign that shoppers simply were not spending. "This will put more pressure on retailers who are already squeezed with a rates system in Northern Ireland that unfairly burdens them, at a time when firms are already grappling with other government-imposed cost rises and with one in every seven shops in our town centres lying vacant," he said.
"The cumulative burden of tax and regulatory costs has mushroomed over recent years and is accelerating the pace of change within the retail industry, as firms seek to reinvent themselves in the face of profound changes in shopping habits.
"The retail industry will do its bit to entice shoppers to spend their time and money in our towns and cities but we need the NI political parties to get back to the Executive to make bold mission-critical decisions that support our industry and the 90,000 jobs we sustain."
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Chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, Helen Dickinson, said the UK-wide decline in sales increases the risk of further retail job losses and store closures.
"While May 2018 offered almost unbroken sunshine, topped off by the run-up to the World Cup and the marriage of Meghan and Harry, May 2019 delivered political and economic uncertainty.
"Food sales dropped for the first time since June 2016, with further declines in clothing, footwear and outdoor goods," she said.
"With retail conditions the toughest they have been for a decade, politicians must act to support the successful reinvention of our high streets and local communities."
Head of retail at KPMG UK, Paul Martin, added: "April may have provided retailers with some light reprieve thanks to Easter, but May's staggering fall of 3% like-for-like is a stark reminder of the industry's ongoing issues, which for many require urgent attention."