Retail sales rose by a better-than-expected 2.9% in May as increased footfall, better weather and deals saw shoppers return to high streets, according to officials.

It comes following a poor performance during the previous month as days of heavy rain dampened demand in much of the country.

Non-food shops reported strong monthly growth in May, with a rebound in clothes and furniture sales in particular, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported on Friday.

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Footwear, sports equipment, games and toys outlets also experienced an improvement in their quantity of sales.

Economists polled by news agency Reuters had been expecting a rise of around 1.5%.

Meanwhile, the ONS also revised its retail sales figures for April.

It previously estimated that they fell by a worse-than-expected 2.3%, but now says the drop was 1.8%.

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Silvia Rindone, from financial services giant EY, said bank holidays in May had also “provided retailers with a much-needed sales boost”.

She added: “A summer packed with high-profile sporting events such as Uefa Euro 2024 and the Paris Olympics, coupled with better weather and the possibility of political changes, could well be the catalyst for a resurgence in consumer confidence.

“While these upcoming events are beyond retailers’ control, they present a golden opportunity to drive sales.”

‘Recessionary behaviours easing’

The ONS reported that non-food outlets, including department stores and homeware shops, saw sales volumes increase by 3.5% in May – the largest monthly rise in three years.

“These retailers reported improved footfall, better weather, and the impact of promotions,” officials said.

Non-store retailers – who mostly sell products online – also reported a 5.9% month-on-month rise in sales.

Economist Andrew Wishart, from research firm Capital Economics, said it suggested that lower inflation was starting to encourage shoppers to open their wallets more.

He said: “Overall, the retail sales data for May showed tentative signs that strengthening real income growth now inflation is back at target is feeding through to stronger spending.

“As long as inflation continues to behave, this might not prevent [an interest] rate cut in August, although a strengthening in activity could mean the pace of rate cuts thereafter is gradual.”

Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, head of retail at Deloitte, also said the figures suggested that “recessionary behaviours are easing”, with more consumers “releasing their purse strings and spending on discretionary items such as clothing and furniture”.

Kris Hamer, director of insight at the British Retail Consortium, added: “Retailers hope that the recent start of Euro 2024 should further improve spending in snacks, alcohol, and TVs for June’s figures – and if England can win their final game and move forward to Round of 16, it might give consumer confidence the boost it needs.”