Consumer card spending grew 5.9% in 2021, Barclaycard reports

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Consumer spending increased 5.9% in 2021 compared to 2019, fuelled by demand for convenience, online shopping and home improvements. While Covid-19 continued to hamper the hospitality and leisure sector, social distancing restrictions spurred the rising popularity of ‘insperiences’ and outdoor pursuits, resulting in growth for both digital entertainment and sports & outdoor retailers.

Data from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, reveals that spending on essential items rose 11.1% in 2021. This was largely driven by supermarket shopping, which saw an overall growth of 17.4%, with online grocery spend surging 97.4%. 

The continued growth of online

The beginning of 2021 saw online shopping surge as all non-essential retail and hospitality remained closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. Online retail increased 87.7% in March 2021 compared to 2019, accounting for 51.8% of all retail spend.

Online grocery spend also saw its highest increase of the year in March (when compared to 2019), up 119.7%, as many households continued to rely on home deliveries for food shopping.

More broadly, shopping online proved popular throughout the year as online retail recorded strong growth of 63.2% compared to face-to-face retail spending, which saw a noticeably smaller rise of 0.6%, as shoppers continued to shop from digital devices at home and on the move.

Continued rise of the ‘insperience’ economy

The popularity of enjoying experiences at home, or ‘insperiences’ continued in 2021. Spending on takeaways and fast food rose 62.0% in 2021, as consumers spent more on in-home experiences and nights in.

Even as non-essential stores began to re-open and restrictions relaxed, demand for speed and ease remained a noticeable mainstay in consumers’ spending habits. Food and drink specialist stores – including butchers, greengrocers, and meal-kit providers – saw particularly strong growth in 2021 (+74.0%), as consumers relied on the convenience of local shops and delivery services for their weekly meals, with some spending perhaps shifting away from eating out to these sectors across the year.

Home entertainment was another category that flourished in the ‘insperience’ economy, with digital content and subscriptions (+47.4%) and electronics (+10.3%) both seeing sizeable uplifts as households purchased the latest films, boxsets and games consoles.

Summer staycations

While restrictions and quarantine guidelines continued to impact international travel, holidaying in the UK soared in popularity. In June, the hotels, resorts and accommodation category saw growth for the first time (+3.7%) since pre-pandemic times, with this figure rising to 15.9% in August.

Older consumers shelled out the most on staycations, with spend from those aged 50-64 up 27.7% in June, compared to a 18.4% decline among 16-24-year-olds – a trend likely due to older Brits being vaccinated earlier in the roll-out.

Investing in the home

Homeowners splashed out more on their properties in 2021, with spending on home improvements & DIY as well as furniture up 26.2% and 19.8% respectively.

As they spent more time at home, consumers also added four-legged companions to their households, with spending on vets and pet retailers seeing strong growth relative to 2019 (+29.1%).

Post-lockdown pursuits and well-being

Sports and outdoor retailers were another bright spot as the reopening of gyms and golf courses encouraged sports fans to spend more time exercising. The category rose 21.9% overall, with golf clubs having a particularly positive year (up 50.2%).

While spending in the hospitality and leisure sector was down 18.5% compared to 2019, venues have shown signs of recovery since restrictions eased in July. Prior to the arrival of the latest Covid-19 variant, Brits made up for lost time with friends and family, with pubs, bars and clubs recording positive growth in the second half of the year, including a 43.5% increase in September.

Clothing and pharmacy, health and beauty retailers also saw improvements throughout 2021, particularly in May when the categories saw respective rises of 7.6% and 17.5% as Brits focused on well-being and invested in sprucing up their appearance for post-lockdown socialising.

Jose Carvalho, head of consumer products at Barclaycard, said: “2021 was another challenging year, as the pandemic continued to hamper the UK economy. However, categories such as local food retailers, takeaways and digital entertainment continued to do well, thanks to Brits’ demand for convenient, local, and at-home shopping experiences. In addition, with more time spent working from home, Brits continued to invest in their households, resulting in strong growth for both DIY and pet stores.

“As we look ahead to 2022, the economy will face fresh challenges from rising household bills, inflation, and uncertainty about the new Covid variant. Yet, as we’ve seen over the last two years, consumers and businesses are capable of adapting to and overcoming immense hardship and adversity – the resolve and determination of the British public to succeed is why I’m still optimistic about the year ahead and what it may bring.”

Clare Bailey, independent retail expert and founder of The Retail Champion, said: “It is encouraging to see that many categories have enjoyed growth in what has been another turbulent year. Local shops continue to be supported by community-spirited Brits, while sports, clothing and health and beauty retailers all saw uplifts as the nation enjoyed post-lockdown life.

“While the economic impact of Omicron remains to be seen, we can admire the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors for once again adapting to ever-evolving circumstances and overcoming so many challenges this year.”