Card spending last month rebounded back by $2.3 billion following horrifically low levels in April as businesses reopened after the Covid-19 lockdown.
However, in actual terms, retail spending using electronic cards was down by $332m from May 2019, reaching $5.2b total.
Consumables and durables were the only two retail industries of six to record increased spending compared to the year previous, Statistics NZ revealed.
The jump in retail spending for May was not unexpected, Statistics NZ retail statistics manager Kathy Hicks said.
It was thought the partial recovery was a direct result of more businesses reopening during alert level 2, which started on May 13, after sales plummeted during level 4.
The substantial increase in May was good news but trouble was still on the horizon, Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said.
Meanwhile, it was important to remember the transactions were from electronic cards only, with cash transactions thought to have decreased by 50 per cent, he said.
In May, sales for hotels, motels, cafes, and restaurants remained well below typical levels, but sales for groceries, furniture and appliances increased.
Grocery and liquor recorded the largest increase, up $254m, of the retail sectors last month when compared to the same time in 2019.
Spending on furniture, hardware, appliances, and other durables was the next highest, up $122m.
The largest decrease was recorded by those in hospitality and food and beverage services, where spending fell $428m - a whopping 41 per cent drop.
Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive Marisa Bidois said recent survey numbers were singing a similar tune to Statistics NZ.
Around 60 per cent of their 3600 members - which equates to 2160 - had experienced decreases in revenue in May compared to the year previous.
"People are worried, they really are but for many of our businesses they are still looking down the barrel of some significant losses," Bidois said.
"I don't want to be too negative but I want to explain what's happening - people are wanting to remain positive but there are some challenges out there as well."
Other areas of the retail sector which recorded losses in May 2020 compared to May 2019 were motor vehicle, apparel and fuel sales.
Sixty per cent of Retail NZ members were uncertain their businesses would survive following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Things are very fragile, it's very hard for retail businesses to recover from a period of almost no revenue coming in," Harford told the Herald.
"If you make a loss for a couple of months it will take a very long time to get over that … there are certainly some clouds on the horizon."
Where possible, Kiwis were encouraged to head out and shop locally by both Harford and Bidois.