COVID-19: Pent-up demand helps retailers enjoy best growth since start of pandemic

Retailers enjoyed their best sales growth since the start of the pandemic last month helped by pent-up demand for clothes and accessories, industry figures show.

Sales in May grew by 10% compared with the same period in 2019, before the coronavirus crisis struck, according to the British Retail Consortium-KPMG retail sales monitor.

Clothing chains were among the main beneficiaries as shoppers hunted for outfits to wear to social events as COVID-19 restrictions continued to ease.

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However the headline figure masked a continued malaise on the high street, with in-store non-food sales still down on pre-pandemic levels.

That suggested many consumers were still sticking to online purchases and remained nervous about returning to shops, the report said.

Non-essential stores were allowed to reopen in April and BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said the return of indoor hospitality last month had also buoyed retailers.

“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,” Ms Dickinson said.

“Furniture and homeware sales continued to perform well as consumers were able to see and feel items in-store, while clothing and footwear saw their second consecutive month of growth due to the warmer weather and easing of social restrictions.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “Clothing retailers were the biggest beneficiaries of pent up demand, clocking up increases of over 100% as an easing of restrictions saw stores reopen and social events slowly come back on the agenda.

“Consumers also splurged on new jewellery, footwear and home accessories, with sales registering triple digit growth against last year, when lockdown measures were in place.”

Separate figures from Barclaycard, which processes almost half of credit and debit card transactions, showed consumer spending was 7.6% higher in May than in 2019.

That measure includes leisure spending as well as retail sales.

It showed pubs and restaurants, which were able to resume indoor service on 17 May, remained well down on 2019 levels for the month as a whole.

Restaurant spending was off by 54% while pubs and bars were down by 19%, though both measures represented an improvement compared to April.

Meanwhile, with foreign travel still highly restricted, spending with airlines was down by 74%.

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