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Published
Jun 8, 2021
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Fashion was key spending category in May for UK consumers

Published
Jun 8, 2021

Fashion was a major contributor to rising consumer spending in May, two reports showed on Tuesday. Both Barclaycard and the monthly British Retail Consortium/KPMG sales monitor showed that British shoppers were in the mood to update their wardrobes.


Photo: Tim Douglas/Pexels



First, Barclaycard. The company that processes almost half of the UK’s credit and debit card transactions said consumer spending rose 7.6% in May compared to the same period in 2019. This was the highest growth recorded since coronavirus restrictions began in March 2020.

While spending on essentials was up 17.7%, non-essentials had a good month too. Clothing spend jumped 8.5%, department store spend was up 8.6% and sports and outdoor retailers saw a 47% surge, despite the wet weather for much of last month. Meanwhile pharmacy, health and beauty outlets saw their sales rising 17.8%. Given that the previous month had seen only a 3.7% rise in the latter category, it’s likely that much of the May growth was down to beauty specifically as consumers invested once more in the beauty products they needed (like make-up and hairstyling items) for renewed social lives.

It’s also likely that some of the fashion spend recorded last month would have gone towards holiday clothing as Barclaycard also said that more holidaymakers booked or set off on staycations, with resorts and accommodation growing 25.5%. This comes as 20% said they’ve already made plans to go on a staycation in the weeks following the June 21 final reopening date (although that date remains in question).

Overall spending on non-essentials was up 5.8% and face-to-face spending at non-essential retailers grew 8%. But despite the higher fashion sales in total, in-store fashion shopping was still down compared to 2019 with a 6.1% drop. However, this was much better than the 46.9% fall in April.

The BRC/KPMG sales report, meanwhile, showed that during May, sales increased 10% on a two-year comparable basis.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said the reopening of hospitality “coupled with the afterglow of non-essential retail’s own return” was responsible. She added that “pent-up demand for the in-store shopping experience, as well as the first signs of summer weather, helped retail to the strongest sales growth of the pandemic”.

The BRC also highlighted the strength in fashion with its clothing and footwear categories seeing their second consecutive month of growth due to the warmer weather late in the month and easing of social restrictions. Clothing rose 9% and footwear 10%.

“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,”: Dickinson added.

And Paul Martin UK Head of Retail at KPMG, said: “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, 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”.

But it was also significant, Martin said, that “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”. Non-food online sales jumped 39.1% for the month.

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