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Consumer spending rose 7.6% in May as lockdown restrictions eased

Tom Bottomley
08 June 2021

The further lifting of lockdown restrictions in May 2021 saw more Brits shopping and socialising, as consumer spending rose 7.6% compared to the same period in 2019 – the highest growth recorded since coronavirus restrictions began, according to the latest data from Barclaycard.

Image-conscious Brits spent more on outfits and beauty products for post-lockdown socialising, with uplifts in May at clothing retailers +8.5%, department stores +8.6% and pharmacy, health and beauty stores (including nail salons and hairdressers) +17.8% compared to April, which only saw a 3.7% rise.

While in-store clothes shopping in May was still down on the same period in 2019 at -6.1%, that was a significantly smaller decline than April which sat at -46.9%.

The wet weather in early May was not enough to deter consumers from returning to shops, with overall spending on non-essential items rising 5.8% compared to the same period in 2019, while face-to-face spending at non-essential retailers grew 8%.

Spending on essentials was bolstered by supermarket shopping - up 17.7% - and face-to-face spending at local food and drink specialist retailers, such as butchers, off-licenses and independent convenience stores, which rose by 69.3% – a sign that Brits are continuing to support local businesses, even as restrictions relax.

Brits braved the rain for leisure activities in May, with improvements in spending on entertainment – such as family days out – and strong growth at sports and outdoor retailers, up 47%.

Signs of recovery for the hospitality industry emerged as more restrictions lifted on 17 May, 2021, with restaurants at -53.2% compared to 2019, while pubs and bars were at -19.4%. Both much smaller declines than in April 2021, when the categories dropped -74.4% and -67.2% respectively.

More holidaymakers booked or set off on staycations, with resorts and accommodation growing 25.5%. This comes as one in five of Brits (20%) say they’ve already made plans to go on a staycation in the weeks following 21 June, and around the same proportion (18%) intend to go on more holidays in the UK, even after international travel restrictions have been lifted.

Consumer confidence in the economy and household finances remains noticeably higher than this time last year, holding up at 35% and 72% respectively, compared to 20% and 67% in May 2020.

Raheel Ahmed, Head of Consumer Products at Barclaycard, said: “May was a positive month for a range of categories, with the nation clearly determined to show support for retailers and local businesses. As friends and families reunited after months apart, it is reassuring to see signs of recovery for the entertainment and hospitality industries, both of which have faced significant challenges over the past year.

“While international holidays continue to be hampered by restrictions, staycations in the UK are providing a welcome boost to the travel sector, as May saw more holidaymakers, particularly in the older age groups, book or embark on trips. With summer – and hopefully more of this warmer weather – on the way, we hope to see these positive trends continue as Brits make the most of their newfound freedoms.”

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