UK Retail Analysis – May 2021

The British Retail Consortium has released its Retail Sale Monitor report for May 2021. The report was produced by the BRC in partnership with KPMG. This months report shows strong sales despite competition. 

Headline Statistics:

  • On a Total sales basis, sales increased by 10.0% in May (Yo2Y), against a decline of 2.7% in May 2019 (YoY). This is above the 3-month average growth of 8.5% (Yo2Y).
  • UK retail sales increased 23.7% on a Like-for-like sales basis from May 2019, when they had decreased 3.0% from the preceding year. Online sales play a far greater role in LFL, so has increased the growth rate significantly.
  • Over the three months to May, In-Store sales of Non-Food items declined 16.7% on a Total sales basis and increased 27.1% on a Like-for-like sales basis. This is worse than the 2019 Total sales average decline of 3.1%. For the month of May, In-store Non-Food sales were negative, though much improved from previous months.
  • Over the three months to May, Food sales increased 9.8% on a Total sales basis and 10.2% on a Like-for-like sales basis. This is higher than the 2019 Total sales average growth of 1.4%. For the month of May, Food was in growth year-on-year.
  • Over the three-months to May, Non-Food retail sales increased by 7.5% on a Total sales basis and 38.0% on a like-for-like sales basis. This is above the 2019 Total sales average decline of 1.3%. For the month of May, Non-Food was in growth year-on-year.
  • Online Non-Food sales increased by 39.1% in May, against a growth of 1.5% in May 2019. This is below the 3-month average of 64.4%.
  • Non-Food Online penetration rate decreased from to 39.8% this May from 61.5% in May 2020, but was up from 31.4% in May 2019.


Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive, BRC:

Retail sales were buoyant in May thanks to the reopening of hospitality, coupled with the afterglow of non-essential retail’s own return. Pent-up demand for the instore shopping experience, as well as the first signs of summer weather, helped retail to the strongest sales growth of the pandemic. Furniture and Homeware sales continued to perform well as consumers were able to see and feel items instore, while Clothing and Footwear saw their second consecutive month of growth due to the warmer weather and easing of social restrictions. There is a growing sense of consumer confidence, boosted not only by the widespread uptake of vaccinations and testing, but also retailers’ own significant investment in safety measures.
Large cities have been hardest hit by the pandemic, with so many people still working from home and footfall remaining considerably down as shoppers increasingly choose to shop local. Now is the time to consider what our future high streets and town centres will look like a decade from now. We must adapt to these changes, not only to build back better but also to build forward. With vacancy rates still rising in many parts of the country, we must reimagine how we integrate residential and commercial property, allowing us to build stronger local communities that encompass leisure, retail, services, and homes. This will require retailers, property developers and local government to work together and plan city centres that cater to these changing demands and truly innovate the high street model.


Don Williams, Retail Partner, KPMG:

The rain in May failed to dampen consumer demand and shoppers continued to return to the high street. 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.
Although some spend has migrated to high street, there was still high penetration of online spending in May reinforcing the view that the pandemic has seen a step up in online activity as some consumers maintain their use of this channel out of habit and choice and some remain nervous about venturing back into stores
Retailers now face an interesting few months as they assess how they best entice their customers back to stores and what the right blend of offline and online will be as spending patterns settle in a post Covid world. With the prospect of the full lifting of Covid restrictions coming into force this month, there will be increased competition for share of wallet  as consumers focus on those leisure and hospitality activities that have been denied to them due to lockdown.  It is a summer that starts with cautious optimism for many retailers, who will be hoping that the continued success of the vaccine roll-out and an improving economy will offer scope to spark a big surge in consumer spending.


As a member of the BRC, the MIA can share the full report with our members. If you would like to see the full report, please contact

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