Warmer weather, bank holidays and the royal wedding helped to boost retail sales in May, a survey has indicated.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said total sales rose by 4.1% in May from a year earlier, the fastest pace for more than four years.
However, the BRC noted that retail conditions remained tough, with growth “very low by historical standards”.
Separate figures from the motor industry showed that UK vehicle sales rose by a “modest” 3.4% in May.
Last month’s sunnier weather tempted shoppers out to the shops after the freezing start to 2018, the BRC survey found.
Sales were also helped by the two bank holidays and the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
A separate report from Barclaycard echoed the BRC’s findings. It found that consumer spending in May was up 5.1% from a year earlier – the highest rate since April 2017.
Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG – which helped to produce the BRC survey, said: “Two bank holiday weekends, a royal wedding and of course sunnier spells will have been the main drivers behind the apparent rebound, with both online and High Street sales thankfully up overall.”
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Better weather and the bank holiday effect led shoppers to buy from garden furniture and summer fashion ranges, recovering some of the ground lost in April.”
However, she added: “The FA Cup Final and royal wedding may have got the nation in the mood for celebration but the day itself was a distraction for shoppers as they stayed at home to watch the festivities; sales also tailed off once the party was over.”
In addition, Ms Dickinson said the “retail environment remains extremely challenging” with tight margins and fierce competition.
Retailers in the UK have been hit by factors such as a fall in discretionary spending after a squeeze on pay, rising overheads, and too much debt.
On Tuesday, online electrical retailer AO World reported a pre-tax loss of £13.5m for the year to 31 March – nearly double the £7m loss in the previous year – due to higher marketing costs and a “consistently competitive pricing environment”.
Car sales ‘encouraging’
New car registrations rose 3.4% to 192,649 in May after large declines in 2017, according to industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
That growth followed a “substantial” 8.5% drop the previous May, it said.
Demand for “alternatively fuelled vehicles” such as electric and hybrid cars rose by 36.1%. Petrol car sales also increased, by 23.5%, but demand for diesels fell for the 14th consecutive month, down 23.6%.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “May’s growth, albeit on the back of large declines last year, is encouraging and suggests the market is now starting to return to a more natural running rate.”