After a good start to the year, UK retail sales cooled in May, hit by the unseasonably cold weather and boding poorly for the country’s economic performance in the second quarter. 

The quantity of goods bought in shops dropped by 0.5 per cent over the previous month, according to data released by the Office for National Statistics on Thursday. This was in line with market expectations and below a downwardly-revised 0.1 per cent drop in April, which followed a strong expansion in March.

In the three months to May, retail sales expanded by 1.6 per cent compared to the previous three month period. This was a slower pace than the 1.7 per cent rise in the three months to April.

“Retail sales continued to grow in the latest three months despite two consecutive monthly falls, with clothing sales declining considerably in May, due to unseasonably cold weather,” said Rhian Murphy head of retail sales at the ONS.

A tight labour market had helped retail sales recover at the start of the year, after a poor shopping season in the autumn. In the three months to April, the UK unemployment rate was at its lowest since 1974, while earnings continued to expand at a healthy pace.

However, while internet sales have been expanding quickly throughout the year, sales in department stores and household goods shops have been contracting.

“We see quite a mixed picture across the rest of the sector as the decline in department store sales continued, with no growth since September of last year,” said Mrs Murphy.

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