The latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal a significant rebound in UK retail sales for May 2024. After a rainy April, where sales volumes saw a decline, the market has shown promising signs of recovery.

This analysis delves into the details of the May retail sales data, supported by expert commentary to provide a comprehensive understanding of the current retail landscape.

The big picture

Retail sales volumes in the UK rose by 2.9% in May 2024, a substantial improvement following the revised 1.8% fall in April 2024.

This resurgence was seen across most sectors, with clothing retailers and furniture stores experiencing notable rebounds after a period of poor weather in April.

Over a broader timeframe, sales volumes increased by 1.0% in the three months leading up to May 2024 compared to the previous three months.

However, when compared to the same period last year, sales volumes still showed a slight decline of 0.2%.

How well do you really know your competitors?

Access the most comprehensive Company Profiles on the market, powered by GlobalData. Save hours of research. Gain competitive edge.

Company Profile – free sample

Thank you!

Your download email will arrive shortly

Not ready to buy yet? Download a free sample

We are confident about the unique quality of our Company Profiles. However, we want you to make the most beneficial decision for your business, so we offer a free sample that you can download by submitting the below form

By GlobalData
Visit our Privacy Policy for more information about our services, how we may use, process and share your personal data, including information of your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.

The positive trend in May reflects a more optimistic retail environment, bolstered by several factors, including better weather and an increase in consumer spending during the multiple bank holidays in May.

The view from sectors

The data from the ONS highlights that non-food store sales rose by 3.5% in May 2024, marking the largest monthly rise since April 2021.

Silvia Rindone, EY UK&I Retail Lead, comments on this boost: “The numerous bank holidays in May provided retailers with a much-needed sales boost according to the latest figures from the ONS. Non-food store sales rose by 3.5% last month – the largest monthly rise since April 2021, with clothing and furniture stores rebounding following a period of poor weather.”

Online retailers also saw significant gains, with spending values increasing by 5.4%. This rise underscores the continued strength of online shopping, even as physical stores see renewed footfall.

Expert insights on the economic context

The retail sector’s performance in May must be viewed within the broader economic context. Phil Monkhouse, UK Country Manager at Ebury, provides insights into the factors driving this recovery:

“Retailers saw sales volumes climb by 2.9% in May, marking the first significant month-on-month increase since January’s surprise 3.4% rebound and offering a much-needed lift after the 1.8% fall in April.”

Despite the encouraging data, there remain challenges ahead. Josh Graham, Co-Founder of Airtime Rewards, notes the potential for further growth driven by seasonal factors and major events:

“With today marking the start of summer, the Euros in full swing, and a packed sporting agenda on the horizon, retailers have every reason to feel optimistic and anticipate a boost in consumer spending.

“Retaining these customers will be crucial, and it is those retailers which are capable of elevating customer experiences and everyday moments that will emerge as champions in this shifting landscape.”

The road ahead: optimism amid challenges

Looking forward, there are mixed signals regarding the sustainability of this recovery.

On the one hand, the economic indicators such as cooling inflation and improving macroeconomic conditions offer a favourable environment for retail growth. Silvia Rindone highlights the potential for a positive shift:

“As we move into the latter half of 2024, there is a sense that the tide may turn. A summer packed with high-profile sporting events such as UEFA Euro 2024 and the Paris Olympics, coupled with better weather and the possibility of political changes, could well be the catalyst for a resurgence in consumer confidence.”

However, the retail sector cannot become complacent. As Phil Monkhouse advises:

“With the general election just around the corner, retailers shouldn’t rely on balmy summer weather to make-up for the sales shortfall that many have experienced this year.

“Now that inflation is back down to target levels, utilising this window of positive consumer sentiment and sales by ensuring ready access to finance and hedging against any risks will be critical for those wanting to limit their exposure to future sales volatility and public uncertainty.”

Ultimately, the May 2024 retail sales figures present a picture of cautious optimism for the UK retail sector. While the rebound is a welcome change from the previous month’s decline, the path ahead will require strategic planning and adaptability from retailers.

Leveraging the positive consumer sentiment and preparing for potential economic shifts will be crucial for sustaining growth in the coming months.