UK retail sales slip in May as consumer confidence falls to lowest on record

Shoppers cut back on food spending

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The fall in sales volumes over the month was because of food stores, which fell by 1.6%.
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The fall in sales volumes over the month was because of food stores, which fell by 1.6%.

Retail sales in the UK fell by 0.5% in May, driven by a decline in food spending, while the consumer confidence index fell to its lowest level since records began, as rising inflation continues to take a toll on household finances.

According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics, the fall in sales volumes in May was because of food stores, which declined by 1.6%. Rising food prices and the cost-of-living seems to be linked with the reduced spending in food stores, the ONS said.  

Shoppers began cutting back on food spending as the UK consumer confidence index, which measures how people feel about their own financial status and the state of the economy as a whole, fell one point to -41 in June, marking its lowest level in nearly 50 years. 

"The consumer mood is currently darker than in the early stages of the Covid pandemic, the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum, and even the shock of the 2008 global financial crisis, and now there is talk of a looming recession," said Joe Staton, client strategy director at GfK, the research company that published the data.

UK consumer confidence hits record low as the cost-of-living crisis deepens

May saw an increase in automotive fuel sales volumes of 1.1%, which may be partially attributed to more hybrid working and a decline in those who work exclusively from home.

Non-food stores sales volumes were unchanged over the month. However, clothing sales increased by 2.2%, which was offset by a fall in household goods of 2.3%, such as furniture stores and department stores.

"More workers returning to the office may have contributed to increased fuel sales this month, while shoppers buying outfits for summer holidays helped boost clothing sales," said Heather Bovill, deputy director for surveys and economic indicators at the ONS. 

In the three months to May, sales volumes fell by 1.3% when compared with the previous quarter, which continues the downward trend since summer 2021.

The proportion of retail sales online fell to 26.6% last month from 27.1% in April, but remains substantially higher than the 19.7% in February 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic.

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