High streets hit two year low point in dismal May sales

British high street

Struggling high streets suffered their worst month in 24 years in May as sales plunged at the steepest rate on record.

The British Retail Consortium said that sales had dropped by 2.7 per cent in the four weeks to May 25 compared with the same period last year, the biggest fall since records began in 1995. Even online stores were caught in the gloom, with non-food internet sales growing by only 1.5 per cent, another all-time low.

The dismal performance renewed concerns for the sector, which together with wholesale accounts for about a tenth of national output. Changing consumer behaviour as shoppers spend more on experiences and mounting concerns about the economic outlook have taken a toll on the industry. The month’s performance was not helped by a bumper May in 2018, when sales rose by 4.1 per cent,

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, warned that the poor figures could lead to further store closures and job losses in a year in which several retailers have gone bust, including HMV and Debenhams.

She said. “While May 2018 offered 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.”

On a like-for-like basis, excluding Easter distortions, sales fell by 3 per cent, the steepest drop since December 2008. There were declines in clothing, footwear and outdoor goods and, for the first time since June 2016, food sales fell.

Over the three months to May, total sales inched up by 0.2 per cent. Over the year, they were 0.9 per cent higher.