That might sound too simplistic, but ultimately, it could be what the figures are telling us. Retail spending is down nearly half a percent on last month, whereas this time last year it was going up half a percent, according to the BRC and KPMG figures. Food sales have slowed to growth of just over 4% in May -- again, compared to much bigger growth in the corresponding month the year before. So we're still spending on food but retail discretionary spend is down.
Now, contrast this with eating out and going to the cinema. According to separate figures from Barclaycard, British consumers are enjoying nights out like never before. While retail spend over the last 10 months is up just under 3%, entertainment has rocketed 12%, with eating out and restaurant expenditure rocketing up to just under 12% growth in the past 10 months alone. At the same time, spending on household goods and fashion is down nearly 3%.
What's clear, then, is all this talk about people moving from goods to experiences is beginning to be backed up by fact, and not just from marketers making a point at a conference. These figures are based on real spending levels.
So what can we learn? Well, people still have to eat and drink. It's the main part of retail spend that continues to increase -- and it's what drives entertainment spend, which is up nearly 12% over the past ten months. Cinema and restaurants are the strongest areas of growth, perhaps because the two usually go hand in hand. Catching a movie often involves having a bite to eat too.
Yet at a more fundamental level, we get back to "stuff." Do we really need more of it? Nobody ever turns down the chance for a date night or to meet up with pals for a drink and meal, but you have to ask yourselves if you need really need a new television and whether the latest smartphone is really worth upgrading to. For the big items -- buying new furniture or extending a house, fitting a new kitchen -- people are wary about committing before they know where inflation (linked with the weakened pound) and Brexit are going to take us.
Before we read too much into the figures, it's worth pointing out that Easter was a strong period and that poor weather since might be a factor. However, again to balance, retailers have been heavily discounting and not putting up prices to keep customers coming through their doors and conversations I have had with retailers that this couldn't last longer than just after Christmas -- certainly not beyond Q1 2017. If you wanted to buy some big "stuff," chance are you've already taken advantage of a period of prices that have been kept artificially low.
This is, I think, what's happening here. People have already bought the "stuff" they needed in never-ending sales, and now inflation is now running at 2.7% -- which means wages, in real terms, are down 0.2% for the first three months of the year.
At the same time, we have record levels of employment. So my gut feeling is that retail spend will continue to show only modest growth, as we've just had nearly a year of discounts and getting people off special offers and paying the inflated prices that are unavoidable, due to a weaker pound, will prove to be tough.
Yet we're all just apes in suits. We drink, we eat, we watch and we socialise. That's showing no end. Only, maybe we're fine with wearing last year's summer wardrobe and perhaps the conservatory furniture can last another year or two, until we see which way the wind's blowing on Brexit.
For entertainment brands, this is great news. The money is clearly still out there, but it's going on the little treats, cocktails on a Friday night or the latest blockbuster with a burger. The big-ticket items are on the back burner, it seems, for now, as is splashing out on a new look for the summer.