Consumer spending grows by 3.9% in January as Brits fill up on fuel and food

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Consumer spending grew 3.9% year-on-year in January, marking a distinct uplift from the low levels of growth seen in 2019. Consumers are feeling upbeat about the country’s economic prospects, with three quarters confident about their household finances. 

Data from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, reveals that spending on essential items rose by 3.7%. Rising prices at the petrol pump* drove much of this growth, with fuel spending increasing by 4.3%. Supermarket spending was also a contributory factor, with the category up 3.7%.

Spending on non-essentials was another bright spot, growing 4.0%. Pharmacy, health and beauty stores experienced growth of 5.9% as consumers pursued healthier lifestyles at the start of the new year. Elsewhere, entertainment remained robust at 6.8% growth, as a strong opening for box office-topping 1917  helped cinema spend climb 22.0%. Spending at travel agents and airlines also increased 4.2 and 3.2% respectively, as consumers looked ahead to their next holiday.

The chilly weather kept Brits indoors, with spending in restaurants falling for the third month in a row, by 3.5%, while takeaway expenditure grew 11.4%. In a trend seen for several months, clothing stores also continued to see a decline, with the sector decreasing 2.2%. Electronics stores also contracted by 1.4%.

Consumer confidence is on the rise, with four in ten (42%) consumers upbeat about the country’s economic prospects, the most positive figures reported since September 2016. Three quarters (74%) also feel confident about their household finances, the highest seen since February 2019.

Looking ahead, however, over half of UK adults (51%) believe the pace of economic growth could decline in the next few months. Consumers are also thinking carefully about the most responsible way to spend their money. More than half (56%) said they have become more conscious of their personal impact on the environment and consequently intend to change their behaviour. A third of shoppers (33%) also plan to buy fewer plastic goods. A focus on maximising value continues to be evident, with spending at discount stores up 9.5% in January.

Esme Harwood, Director at Barclaycard, says: “Consumer spending has had a boost in January, and we’ve also seen confidence in the economy grow. Brits are planning holidays and enjoying box office hits. Traditional retail continues to face challenges though. How retailers respond to consumer demand for value for money and responsible shopping will be key.”

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