Worst May on record as high street ‘creaks at the seams’

07 June 2019

Sector snubbed by government as Brexit uncertainty drags on

Britain’s high streets suffered a disastrous May, the worst on record* for in-store like-for-like sales, figures released today by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO reveal.

According to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) in-store sales plunged -3.3% year-on-year in May from a negative base of -2.2% for May last year.

With four months of negative results already recorded in the year-to-date, BDO says the figures reflect how difficult the trading environment has become for retailers.

“Lifestyle in-store sales have not recorded growth for the past 16 months and the fashion sector have just registered its worst in-store result in 14 months,” says Sophie Michael, Head of Retail at BDO.

“Our high streets are creaking at the seams. It’s time the government took action and showed some much-needed support for retailers and to the millions of people the sector employs.”

The lifestyle sector continued its collapse in May, with in-store sales falling -2.4% from an already negative base of -3.8% for May 2018. Fashion in-store sales also declined by -4.2% from a marginal base of +0.4% for the same month last year.

Homeware in-store sales increased by +4.3%, but did little to offset a very poor base of -15.2% for May 2018.

Meanwhile, away from the high street, non-store like-for-like sales increased by +19.8% from a middling base of +14.5% for the equivalent month last year. The result marks the highest like-for-like for the category in 17 months, though still remains below the long-run average.

“With a government mired in Brexit chaos and now further distracted by a leadership contest, our British high street is not getting the attention it desperately needs,” said Sophie Michael.

“Both retailers and shoppers alike need a clear roadmap that can deliver much needed confidence for the future. Retailers know they need to adapt their physical portfolios and respond quickly to changing consumer behaviours, but they are in investment paralysis as Brexit uncertainty drags on and consumer confidence remains low.

“It is vital that the ambivalence with which the high street is currently being treated is replaced with concerted action, or the results could be catastrophic.”


* BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker was established in 2006. It started tracking non-store sales in 2011.

Note 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 17 offices across the UK, employing 5,000 people offering tax, audit and assurance, and a range of advisory services. BDO LLP has underlying revenues of £590m and is the UK member firm of the BDO International network.

BDO’s global network

The BDO global network provides business advisory services in 162 countries, with 80,000 people working out of 1,600 offices worldwide. It has revenues of $9bn. 


Erin Dodds
Tel:      +44(0)20 7758 3900
Email: [email protected]