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Consumer spending grew 3.1 per cent in March

Data from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, shows that essential expenditure rose modestly by 2.2 per cent, boosted by a 4.1 per cent growth in petrol spend while supermarket sales contracted 0.5 per cent. Non-essential spending, meanwhile, saw year-on-year growth of 3.4 per cent. Yet, these figures are particularly buoyant because they are compared with March last year, when spending was heavily impacted by severe weather conditions caused by the ‘Beast from the East’.

Pubs and restaurants helped non-essential spending see strong growth this March, recording uplifts of 15.1 per cent and 12.1 per cent respectively, as Brits made the most of the opportunity to relax and dine out.

In line with the milder weather this March, garden centre spend increased 34.2 per cent year-on-year with shoppers buying tools, plants and other items to spruce up their outdoor space. In contrast, there was no respite for clothing retailers, as sales saw their sixth consecutive month of decline, contracting 2.4 per cent. Department store spending also contracted 4.7 per cent as the retail sector continues to face challenges.

Amidst ongoing political and economic uncertainty, confidence in the UK economy has fallen to its lowest level since Barclaycard began tracking this data in 2014, with nearly seven in ten (69 per cent) saying they are not confident in the current environment. Furthermore, almost half of Brits (46 per cent) are worried that their quality of life will decline due to Brexit. Just over three in ten (31 per cent) are concerned that the rising cost of everyday items will make life harder for them, and 17 per cent are worried about shortages of medicines and other emergency products.

On a brighter note, many Brits remain committed to spending on non-essentials, with 40 per cent saying that they will always spend on certain nice to haves – with social events, quality food and mini-breaks topping the list. One in ten (10 per cent) even admitted they will never part with personal entertainment, such as their Netflix subscription.

Esme Harwood, Director at Barclaycard, said: “In contrast to the extreme weather conditions experienced last year, a milder March resulted in an uplift in spending, with consumers dining out and making the most of the welcome sunshine. Despite this, underlying sentiment is cautious. March was characterised by ongoing uncertainty around Brexit, with consumers concerned about an impact on food prices and supplies. In light of this, consumer confidence in the UK economy is the lowest it’s been since we began recording this data.”

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