By Daniel Hunter

The Scottish Retail Consortium and KPMG's Retail Sales Monitor for May has shown that total sales in May were 0.1% up on May 2011, when they had fallen 1.1%. Like-for-like sales were 1.2% lower than a year ago, when they had fallen 3.2%.

Food sales rose above their year-earlier level but, once food inflation is taken in to consideration, volumes are likely to have fallen slightly. Warm weather at the end of the month helped boost sales of summer foods.

Clothing and footwear sales were also helped by warmer weather, without this there would have been an even larger decline in non-food sales. Big-ticket purchases continued to struggle and were often promotion-led, amid continued consumer caution.

On both like-for-like and total measures, sales were much weaker than for the whole UK. This was the fourteenth month in a row that UK sales growth exceeded that in Scotland.

"A welcome spell of warmth at the end of May helped lift these figures but the burst of summer didn‟t bring a boost on the scale enjoyed elsewhere," Ian Shearer, Scottish Retail Consortium Director, said.

"The underlying picture remains weak, showing sales falling in real terms for the sector overall, and this is particularly worrying given that they are being compared against poor figures for May in 2011. Consumer caution persisted, household budgets are still under severe strain and most shoppers are committed to buying only what they consider to be essentials.

"Food retailers had a brighter month with changes in consumer preferences reflecting the shift in temperatures. Demand for roasting joints and soups turned into sales of salad and barbecue meats for the final week.

"Other stores, with supplies of summer fashions, outdoor leisure gear and gardening equipment currently languishing in stockrooms, badly need a more prolonged period of summer weather in the coming months to begin to ease the gloom."

David McCorquodale, Head of Retail in Scotland, KPMG, said: "After a dismal April, May was a slightly better month statistically and many retailers will have breathed a small sigh of relief, particularly in the last week of May as the sun shone.However, closer scrutiny of the comparisons with last May doesn‟t make for comfortable analysis. Total sales rose only 0.1 per cent against last May, which itself recorded the worst fall we'd seen up to then. Like-for-like sales fell by 1.2 per cent when compared with the same month last year, with non-food sales falling by 4 per cent.

"A week of sunshine and Scotland's muted celebration of the Jubilee will not overcome the underlying issues facing the industry, which remains under pressure from a combination of low consumer confidence and squeezed incomes.

"We have seen yet more casualties on the high street in May and more are forecast. The seismic structural changes in the industry would be easier to manage in a better economic environment but retailers do not have that luxury and are therefore hanging on and managing cash and margins as best they can."

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