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Consumer spending growth falls to lowest level since 2016 as essential spend drops

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As Top500 retailers report a disappointing Christmas, data shows that part of the problem is shoppers just aren’t splashing out. Consumer spending grew 1.8% in December, the lowest rate of growth seen since March 2016. With inflation at 2.3%, this equated to a contraction in real terms.

Data from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, shows that essential spending growth dipped to just 0.6% – the lowest figure recorded since July 2016 – caused by a contraction in supermarket spending of 1.1%.

Non-essential expenditure saw a muted month, rising by a modest 2.0%. This figure however, was boosted by strong growth in pubs and restaurants. Pubs saw an increase of 12.9% whilst restaurants were at 9.1% as Brits continued to make the most of the festive period by relaxing and dining out.

The high street, on the other hand, continued to face challenges despite the festive season. Clothing spending saw its third consecutive month of negative territory, falling by 3.0%, while department store expenditure declined by 6.3%. Spending in this sector remained subdued as shoppers cut back on clothing and balanced out their budgets when it came to Christmas time. 

In the face of numerous reports of store closures and the challenges facing well-known high street brands, over half of Brits (52%) say they want to support their local high street. Furthermore, 38% said they are deliberately choosing the high street over online-only retailers, suggesting consumers want the high street to remain an important part of their local community.

Despite Brits’ good intentions to support their local economies, many remain concerned about their spending power. One in two consumers (49%) expect to cut back in January to cover the cost of Christmas, while 48% say they feel less confident about their personal finances in the coming year than they have done for many years.

In terms of the wider picture, one in two (50%) UK adults are concerned that there may be a decline in the UK economy – up from 43% last year.

Many shoppers are anticipating price increases over the next three months, particularly around the cost of fuel (65%), household utilities (66%) and groceries (72%).

Esme Harwood, Director at Barclaycard, says: “Growth in consumer spending dropped to its lowest level since 2016 and represents a decline in real terms. Many Brits were more modest in their approach to Christmas spending compared to 2017, cutting back on the essentials to balance the costs of the festive season.

“Despite a desire to support their local high street, Brits expect to cut back in January and remain cautious amidst ongoing economic uncertainty.”

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