The largest contribution to the monthly decline came from grocery stores where sales volumes fell by 5.7% – the ONS believes that the “easing of hospitality restrictions” had an impact on food store sales as people returned to eating and drinking at locations such as restaurants and bars.
Despite the monthly decline, over April and May combined, the average total retail sales volumes were still 7.7% higher than in March 2021, and were 9.1% higher than in February 2020 before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, non-food stores reported a 2.3% increase in monthly sales volumes in May 2021 with household goods stores and “other” non-food stores reporting the largest growth of 9.0% and 7.7% respectively.
Jacqui Baker, partner and head of retail at RSM, said: “With two bank holidays, half term and the sector’s first full month up and running, May had the promise of a great month for retailers but spending was more subdued than hoped. While retail sales volumes declined by 1.4% from the month before, volumes were still higher than they were pre-pandemic.
“Non-food stores performed well with homeware maintaining its strong performance and buyers continued to invest in their homes and gardens in anticipation of a summer at home.”
She added: “Online sales have trickled down slightly but I don’t expect they will ever drop below pre-pandemic levels. Moving into summer, consumers will continue to enjoy the social activities they were denied over the last year. There is cautious optimism amongst retailers that we could soon be enjoying the hustle and bustle of a thriving high street again.”