LONDON (Reuters) – A release of pent-up demand after the coronavirus lockdown spurred a rebound in retail sales last month, although overall consumer spending remains far below normal levels, surveys showed on Tuesday.
The British Retail Consortium trade body said retail sales values rose by 3.4% in annual terms in June, the biggest increase since May 2018, although the reading was flattered by the comparison with unusually weak sales in June 2019.
The turnaround is especially sharp when compared with a 19.1% fall in spending recorded in April, when lockdown restrictions were greatest.
Food, computing and furniture sales were bright spots last month but although clothing and health and beauty sales remained weak.
Separately, payment card company Barclaycard said overall consumer spending fell 14.5% in annual terms in June – the smallest decline since lockdown began.
The surveys added to tentative signs of an economic recovery, although many economists are cautious about its longevity beyond the rebound caused by household spending on goods and services that had been postponed during lockdown.
“Though a month of growth is welcome news, retail is not out of the woods yet. The pandemic continues to pose huge challenges to the industry, with ongoing stores closures and job losses across the UK,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.
She added that the reopening of pubs and restaurants, which took place earlier this month, could further help high street retail sales.
Barclaycard said spending on food and drink outside the home was down by 56% year-on-year in June, before the lockdown eased – though this represented an improvement on the 70% fall in May, as more food was bought to takeaway or for delivery.
Last week finance minister Rishi Sunak said the government would fund discounts on eating out on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August, and also slashed value-added tax for the hospitality and domestic tourism sector.
(Reporting by Andy Bruce, editing by David Milliken)