Retail sales jumped by 29.5% in May compared to April, reflecting both the partial reopening of the economy and a record drop in April, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show today.

But sales are still 26.6% lower than a year ago, the CSO said. 

Retail sales in April had tumbled 35.4% month on month and 43.3% year-on-year due to Covid-19 restrictions and shop closures. 

A reopening of the economy began in the middle of May, including the re-opening of hardware shops, car salesrooms and phone shops. 

A further easing in early June was followed today by the reopening of most of the economy, including some pubs, restaurants and hairdressers. 

The rebound in May marked the largest monthly increase on record and was driven by a 153.9% jump in the motor trade, a 92.5% rise in hardware and an 85.9% improvement in furniture and lighting. 

But all three categories were still down year-on-year, led by drops of 74.6% and 51.3% in furniture and car sales respectively, the CSO noted.

Today's figures also show an increase of 28.4% in the value of retail sales in May compared to April, while there was an annual decrease of 29.1% when compared with May last year.

Commenting on today's CSO figures, economist Alan McQuaid said that although pent-up demand may have contributed to the record rise in retail sales in May, lifting restrictions may not necessarily translate into a sustained rebound in activity. 

Noting China's experience, Mr McQuaid said the pandemic's psychological legacy can lead to an uneven recovery especially if people do not feel safe returning to their normal routines. 

The economist said that long queues and social distancing may be acceptable when the weather is warm, but it is hard to see consumers being willing to queue outside in the cold and rain when winter sets in. 

"Rules and regulations (wearing of face coverings, no browsing, remaining at least one metre apart) are in my view going to lose retailers as many consumers as they gain," he said.

"Even with the best intentions of policymakers and consumers, the overall outlook for the retail sector looks gloomy despite the sharp rebound in sales in May," he added.