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February spend data shows nation ‘keen to make the most of life’

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As Covid ‘Plan B’ restrictions were eased and workers headed back to the office, pay packets were spent on clothing, socialising and experiences, Barclaycard reveals.

Consumer card spending grew 13.7% in February compared to the same period in 2020 – the highest growth since November 2021, according to Barclaycard.

The global payment business which sees nearly half of the nation’s debit and credit card transactions, said the lifting of ‘Plan B’ restrictions, easing of work-from-home guidance mixed with ‘pent-up demand’ helped bolster the figures.

Spending on essential items rose 12% in the month, largely driven by an 11.2% rise in spend on fuel, and commuter costs as workers headed back to the office.

But supermarket shopping saw its smallest uplift since February 2020 to 12.9% as shoppers sought greater value for money amid rising living costs.

Barclaycard said almost half of shoppers (45%) are buying budget or own-brand goods over branded goods in supermarkets, while two-fifths (39%) are using vouchers or loyalty points to bag discounts.

Meanwhile, spending on non-essential items saw strong growth (14.5%) – the sharpest increase since November 2021 (18.3%). Barclaycard said its data showed Brits spend more on discretionary items, holidays and experiences as Covid restrictions were eased.

As workers headed back to the office, they were conscious of their appearance as spending on clothing saw a “sizeable uplift” of 15% while department store spending returned to growth (2.1%) after two months of decline.

Further, pharmacy, health and beauty store spend rose 13.9% as Barclaycard noted people are buying treats and small luxuries for a personal boost despite rising inflation and energy prices.

Elsewhere, the travel sector was also boosted as it had its best month since before the pandemic, though it’s still in decline (-13.9%). This mirrors the airline industry figures. The industry saw a “significant improvement”, declining just -10.9% compared to -42.4% in January.

And given Valentine’s Day, bars, pubs and clubs grew 28.7% – double last month’s growth (14.9%).

But the cold weather coupled with the successive storms saw ‘insperiences’ prove popular. Spending on digital content and subscriptions as well as takeaways rose 37.4% and 61% respectively.

Shift in spending habits

José Carvalho, head of consumer products at Barclaycard, said: “The strong uplifts across both retail and hospitality show the nation is keen to make the most of life following the easing of Plan B restrictions, with many Brits still purchasing treats to give themselves a boost, and making social and holiday plans for the year ahead.

“As inflation starts to have an impact on consumer confidence, we’re seeing a shift in spending habits as Brits seek more value from their purchases, particularly on supermarket shopping, which saw its smallest growth since February 2020. With energy prices rising at the start of April, we will be watching how these price-conscious behaviours evolve over the coming months.”

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