Unexpected fall in May retail sales as consumers eat out

Customers are seen smiling and enjoying drinks indoors at Cafe Italia as indoor hospitality reopens on May 17, 2021 in Bolton, England. UK (Photo by Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images)

British retail sales fell last month as a lifting of lockdown restrictions encouraged spending in restaurants rather than shops, official data showed Friday (16 June).

Sales by volume declined 1.4 per cent in May from April, snapping three months of gains, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.

Retailers had enjoyed a 9.2-percent bounce in April as the UK economy began to crank back into action.

“The largest contribution to the monthly decline in May 2021 came from food stores where sales volumes fell by 5.7 percent,” the ONS noted.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests the easing of hospitality restrictions had had an impact on sales as people returned to eating and drinking at locations such as restaurants and bars.”

Specialist retailers of alcoholic drinks and tobacco reported a monthly decline of 8.4 per cent, further confirming the impact of the relaxation of hospitality restrictions.

Despite the decline, food sales remain higher than their pre-pandemic level, with sales in May 2.6 per cent higher than in February 2020.

The UK reopened non-essential retail, including restaurants and bars, in April, allowing the wider British economy to recover further from pandemic fallout.