Online shopping, pets and takeaways fuel surge in UK spending in 2021

Spending on holidays expected to be priority in 2022 but outlook is uncertain amid inflation and Covid uncertainty, says Barclaycard

Last modified on Fri 31 Dec 2021 01.02 EST

Consumers splashed out on online shopping, takeaways, home improvements and streaming subscriptions in 2021, as ongoing Covid restrictions limited where people could spend their money.

Households were more willing to splash their cash in 2021, and spending during the year was almost 6% higher than in 2019, according to a review of transactions by Barclaycard.

While non-essential shops remained closed at the start of the year, consumers spent their money online instead. Online retail spending surged by almost 88% in March 2021, compared with 2019, when it accounted for over half (52%) of all retail spend.

Spending on essential items rose by 11% over the 12 months, largely driven by supermarket shopping, which grew by more than 17%, as restaurants, cafes, pubs and other hospitality venues remained closed for several months of the year. Spending on takeaways and fast food climbed by 62%.

Consumers also spent considerably more on home entertainment, including on digital content and subscriptions, which rose by 47%, and electronics, which saw a 10% uplift in spending.

Online grocery shopping, a trend which looks set to continue beyond the pandemic, surged by over 97% during the year. The highest increase of the year in online grocery spending came in March, when it climbed by almost 120%, as many consumers relied on deliveries from food retailers.

While many locked-down households turned their attention to home improvements during 2021, some also added an extra member in the form of a pet, boosting spending at vets and pet retailers, which was almost a third (29%) higher than in 2019.

When Covid restrictions were eased during the spring, many cooped-up consumers chose to go on holiday, although many of those remained in the UK, amid continued restrictions on international travel. Barclaycard, which reports seeing around half of the nation’s debit and credit card transactions, said spending on hotels, resorts and accommodation grew for the first time since the start of the pandemic in June 2021, reaching a peak of a nearly 16% increase in spending in August.

The outlook for consumer spending over the coming year remains uncertain amid rising Covid cases, according to Jose Carvalho, head of consumer products at Barclaycard.

“As we look ahead to 2022, the economy will face fresh challenges from rising household bills, inflation, and uncertainty about the new Covid variant,” Carvalho said. “Yet, as we’ve seen over the last two years, consumers and businesses are capable of adapting to and overcoming immense hardship and adversity”.

As the UK enters the third year of the pandemic, spending on holidays is forecast to be a top priority for 2022, according to new research from Goldman Sachs’ online bank Marcus. It found over a third (34%) of consumers were planning to spend more on trips in the coming year, up from 22% in 2021, while 30% of those surveyed said they expected to spend less on takeaways.

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