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Retail sales bounce back in May, says ONS

The volume of retail sales volumes “partly rebounded” in May, according to the latest statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Sales volumes saw an increase of 12% when compared with the “record falls” experienced the previous month, but sales were still down by 13.1% on February, before the impact of coronavirus was felt by the retail sector. 

The largest “positive” contribution came from non-food and DIY stores, supporting monthly growth in May through a “strong” increase of 42% in household goods stores. 

According to the ONS, furniture, electrical household appliances, and hardware, paints and glass stores all increased in their volume of sales. It added that consumers “appeared to be carrying out home improvements while spending more time than usual in their homes”.

However, all measures except for the monthly growth rate showed “strong” declines for both value and volume retail sales overall.

When compared with the same month a year earlier, value sales fell by 14.2% and volume sales by 13.1%, and in the three months to May, value sales fell by 13.9% and volume sales by 13.3%.

In addition, the three months to May saw the volume of retail sales decrease by a “record” 12.8%, with declines across all stores except food and non-store retailing. The value of sales also fell by 14.1%, the “biggest decline on record”. 

The ONS said: “There has been a significant fall in the overall volume of sales in the retail industry since March 2020 as many stores paused trade from 23 March following official government guidance during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“This has resulted in a fall of 12.8% in the three months to May 2020; the lowest levels since records began in 1996.”

It added: “While we see some partial bounce back on the monthly growth rate in May 2020 at 12.0%, levels of sales do not recover from the strong falls seen in March and April 2020 and are still down by 13.1% on February 2020 before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The monthly growth rate in May 2020 is strong because of a combination of recent increasingly rapid growth in non-store retailing and a pick-up for non-food stores from the lowest levels ever experienced.”

Despite this, the proportion spent online “soared to the highest proportion on record” in May with a rise of 33.4%, compared with the 30.8% rise reported in April.

There was a larger uptake of online spending for food, which again reached “record proportions”, rising from 9.3% in April to 11.3% in May. Clothing and other non-food stores both also increased their proportion of online retailing in May to record levels. 

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