Bad weather and economic woes hit high street

UK shoppers’ ’fundamental reluctance’ to spend delivered a 2.1% drop in sales in May, compared to the same period last year, says trade body The British Retail Consortium (BRC).

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Food sales over the three months March-May were up by a relatively low 1.9% compared to like for like sales in the same period last year due to the impact of the football World Cup and warmer weather in 2010, according to the latest BRC figures released this morning.

Non-food sales dropped by 0.4%, with so-called ’big-ticket’ electronic items and home improvement suffering particularly as underlying consumer uncertainty ’resurfaced’, the body reports.

The non-food category was also hit by cooler weather slowing down seasonal uplifts in sales of clothing, footwear and outdoor leisure items, according to the BRC analysis.

With previous months’ figures distorted by extra bank holidays and good weather, the BRC says the May drop lays consumer uncertainty bare.

“This is a more realistic reflection of how tough conditions on the high street really are,” says BRC director general Stephen Robertson.

“The first half of May was better than the second, when the weather turned unseasonably wet and cold in many parts of the country, but customers’ fundamental reluctance to spend is now clear to see,” he added.

Robertson called for interest rates to remain low to help UK retailers cope.

However, he noted that online sales continued to show strong growth, rising 10.4% last month compared to May 2010, although growth was slower than April, which saw a 13.7% rise and last year, when a year on year jump of over 20% was recorded.

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