The boost was triggered by glorious weather, two bank holidays and a wonderful Royal Wedding which got the country in an upbeat mood and was a welcome break from the relentless doom of retail CVAs and anti-Brexit hysteria.
It is noted, however, that retail conditions remain very tough and growth is overall still low. Vehicle sales also rose in the same month by 3.4%.
Major high street retailers who are helping to buck the gloom include JD Sports, Primark, Zara, Disney, Lush and Dominos, alongside countless innovative and energetic independent retail businesses.
A second report from Barclaycard has confirmed the BRC’s findings, finding that consumer spending in May was 5.1% higher than last year and the highest it’s been since April 2017.
Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG – which helped to produce the BRC survey, said: “Two bank holiday weekends, a royal wedding and of course sunnier spells will have been the main drivers behind the apparent rebound, with both online and High Street sales thankfully up overall.”
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Better weather and the bank holiday effect led shoppers to buy from garden furniture and summer fashion ranges, recovering some of the ground lost in April.”
However, she added: “The FA Cup Final and royal wedding may have got the nation in the mood for celebration but the day itself was a distraction for shoppers as they stayed at home to watch the festivities; sales also tailed off once the party was over.”
In addition, Ms Dickinson said the “retail environment remains extremely challenging” with tight margins and fierce competition.
Retailers in the UK have been hit by factors such as a fall in discretionary spending after a squeeze on pay, rising overheads, and too much debt.
On Tuesday, online electrical retailer AO World reported a pre-tax loss of £13.5m for the year to 31 March – nearly double the £7m loss in the previous year – due to higher marketing costs and a “consistently competitive pricing environment”.
Car sales ‘encouraging’
New car registrations rose 3.4% to 192,649 in May after large declines in 2017, according to industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
That growth followed a “substantial” 8.5% drop the previous May, it said.
Demand for “alternatively fuelled vehicles” such as electric and hybrid cars rose by 36.1%. Petrol car sales also increased, by 23.5%, but demand for diesels fell for the 14th consecutive month, down 23.6%.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “May’s growth, albeit on the back of large declines last year, is encouraging and suggests the market is now starting to return to a more natural running rate.”