Store sales fail to ring up as confetti falls in May

08 June 2018

Worst May on the high street for more than a decade.

Wall-to-wall sunshine, a royal wedding and a brace of bank holidays may have sparked a UK-wide feel-good factor but failed to revive spend on the country’s flagging high streets.

Figures released today in accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP’s High Street Tracker (HSST) reveal UK high street sales declined -2.2% year-on-year in May.

The year-on-year performance represents the worst May on the high street for 12 years. It is also now eight months since in-store like-for-like sales have shown any real growth.

Stores were deserted for Saturday trading as more than 13 million people in the UK tuned in to watch the Royal Wedding on 19 May. 

The high street exodus contributed to in-store sales on discretionary items for the third week of May falling by -5.1% year-on-year. Even non-store sales suffered in that week, growing just 4.2% compared to growth of more than 20% in the second and fourth weeks.

The lifestyle sector saw year-on-year sales drop -3.8% in May but homewares retailers were hit particularly hard, with like-for-like sales falling -15.2%.

Fashion stores experienced a marginal year-on-year rise of 0.4% as the warmer weather prompted people to update their wardrobes. 

But while it was the first positive in-store month for fashion sales since January - and the best May since 2014 – the like-for-like increase was off a poor base of -3.6% for the same month in 2017, exposing the underlying weakness in the fashion sector.

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said the figures highlighted a volatility on the UK’s high streets.

“Consumer spending patterns continue to be both volatile and unpredictable, making it increasingly difficult for retailers to identify trends and respond accordingly. Whether it’s falling discretionary income, unexpected weather or a growing preference to spend on experiences, the result is creating growing challenges on the high street which are clearly affecting retail performance.

“The fashion sector saw moderate growth from a weak benchmark in May last year, but early signs for June are not promising. Fashion sales in the half-term week were down -7.8% year-on year.”

While some commentators are reporting an increase in consumer spending, Sophie Michael says this is not yet impacting on sales of discretionary goods.

“The rise in wages and lower inflation has only had a notional impact on the consumer purse. It has been insufficient to ignite much-needed spending on the high street,” said Sophie.  


Notes to editors

Accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP provides integrated advice and solutions to help businesses navigate a changing world.

Our clients are Britain’s economic engine – ambitious, entrepreneurially-spirited and high growth businesses that fuel the economy. 

We share our clients’ ambitions and their entrepreneurial mind-set. We have the right combination of global reach, integrity and expertise to help them succeed. 


BDO LLP operates in 18 offices across the UK, employing 3,500 people offering tax, audit and assurance, and a range of advisory services. BDO LLP has underlying revenues of £428m and is the UK member firm of the BDO International network.

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The BDO global network provides business advisory services in 162 countries, with 74,000 people working out of 1,500 offices worldwide. It has revenues of $8.1bn. 


Alex Black or Erin Dodds
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