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Supermarket spend up 20% while travel down 40% in March

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Consumer spending fell 6% in March as the nation grappled with government measures to tackle coronavirus. While some sectors saw a substantial decline in spending, others were boosted.

Supermarket spending rose 21.3% while specialist food and drink stores such as off-licences and greengrocers reported a 30.5% increase in March.

In the week ahead of tighter measures by the government to control the spread of the coronavirus, specialist food and drink stores saw an 80% uplift in spend, supermarkets were up 49%, digital and content subscriptions were up 18% while home improvement and DIY stores reported a 17% increase in spend.

More than half (55%) of Brits chose to buy locally and support independent businesses, according to Barclaycard, which processes nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions.

It reported spending on essential items rose 11.6% while spending on non-essentials was down nearly 13%.

Other areas of reduced spending include fuel (4.2%), travel, including public transport fell 40.5% and restaurants and bars, pubs and clubs contracted 35.5% and 22.2% respectively.

In-store transactions dropped 4% while online purchases increased 5.5% in the month. Spending in pharmacies and on health and beauty climbed 0.5%.

Barclaycard also reported that consumer confidence dropped to its lowest level since it started this survey six years ago, with just 25% of UK adults feeling positive about the state of the UK economy.

This is down 17 percentage points from February. Confidence in job security declined 6% to 43%, suggesting concern about the months to come.

However, 68% of Brits remain positive about their household finances with 56% saying they were saving money by avoiding the pub, eating out and commuting less.

‘Brits remain resilient’

Esme Harwood, director at Barclaycard, said: “The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact everyday life in the UK, and this is naturally reflected in where and how Brits are spending their money.

“It’s no surprise that essential spend has increased as tighter movement restrictions have meant consumers are largely staying indoors, and therefore unable to visit the high-street, socialise in person, or travel.

“However, despite these turbulent times, it’s positive to see that many Brits remain resilient about their own household finances. It’s also heartening to see communities supporting each other – whether clapping for the NHS, checking on vulnerable neighbours or supporting local businesses.”

‘April’s figures will be bleaker’

Laura Suter, personal finance analyst at investment platform AJ Bell, said: “Behind the headline figures there will be a divergence, with those shops that have a good online presence and also sell some household essentials getting a boost from people being in their homes more and relying on deliveries, while those retailers who haven’t pivoted to online facing a real struggle.

“With no sign of the lockdown ending soon we’d expect April’s figures to paint an even bleaker picture for some retailers and travel companies, while the supermarket spending may tail off slightly as the panic of stockpiling now appears to have died down. Judging by the wait times on deliveries online orders are continuing to boom, with retailers and DIY stores being inundated with customers.”

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