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Consumer spending jumps 7.6% in May as Brits indulge in retail therapy

Brits are beginning to spend as the latest lockdown eases

Britons have been busy dusting off cobwebs from the UK economy in May, fueling a 7.6% rise in consumer spending as people flocked outdoors to shop, sun and socialize with gusto.

Coinciding with a relaxation of lockdown, an 11.4% resurgence in essential spending was led by the supermarket sector, which rose 17.7%, as well as local butchers and convenience stores, which jumped 69.3% compared to the same period a year before, according to data from Barclaycard.

Consumers rediscover their spending mojo

  • Pent-up demand for clothing and fashion saw the sector jump 8.5% as people ditched their pajamas and looked to socialize in style. Similarly, health and beauty outlets witnessed a 17.8% rebound as social pressures to keep up appearances returned.

  • Despite unsettled weather, many leapt at the chance to rediscover the great outdoors with sports and equipment retailers surging 47%.

  • Britain’s battered and bruised hospitality sector also showed the first signs of stemming the bleed as restrictions began to lift from May 17, with restaurants dropping 53.2% while pubs and bars slid by 19.4% – catastrophic figures in normal times, but a relative improvement in April when the equivalent declines stood at 74.4% and 67.2% respectively.

  • A staycation bonanza has provided a lifeline to resorts and short-stay accommodation, as families shun trips abroad in favor of short-haul vacations, growing the sector by 25.5%.

Barclaycard tout a broad-based consumer recovery

  • Underlying all of these positive trends is a general uptick in consumer confidence in household finances as well as the wider economy, with sentiment standing at 72 and 35% respectively – up from 67 and 20% the year before.

  • Raheel Ahmed, head of consumer products at Barclaycard, observed: “May was a positive month for a range of categories, with the nation clearly determined to show support for retailers and local businesses.

  • “While international holidays continue to be hampered by restrictions, staycations in the UK are providing a welcome boost to the travel sector, as May saw more holidaymakers, particularly in the older age groups, book or embark on trips. With summer – and hopefully more of this warmer weather – on the way, we hope to see these positive trends continue as Brits make the most of their newfound freedoms.”

  • This marks a sharp turnaround from January when UK consumer spend was hit by the largest decline since June 2020.

The methodology underlying the stats

  • The spending data is compiled for Barclaycard’s monthly Consumer Spending Index, which from March has switched from a one-year comparison to a two-year look back to provide a more realistic view of the pandemic recovery.

  • The consumer confidence survey drew upon 2,001 representative respondents by Longitude Research between May 21-24.

British Retail Consortium

  • Separate research from the British Retail Consortium covering the four weeks 2 – 29 May 2021 found that on a total sales basis, sales increased by 10.0% in May (Yo2Y), against a decline of 2.7% in May 2019 (YoY). It was above the 3-month average growth of 8.5% (Yo2Y).

  • UK retail sales increased 23.7% on a like-for-like sales basis from May 2019, when they had decreased 3.0% from the preceding year. Online sales play a far greater role in LFL, so and had increased the growth rate significantly.

  • Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the BRC, said: "Retail sales were buoyant in May thanks to the reopening of hospitality, coupled with the afterglow of non-essential retail’s own return. Pent-up demand for the instore shopping experience, as well as the first signs of summer weather, helped retail to the strongest sales growth of the pandemic.

  • "Furniture and homeware sales continued to perform well as consumers were able to see and feel items instore, while clothing and footwear saw their second consecutive month of growth due to the warmer weather and easing of social restrictions. There is a growing sense of consumer confidence, boosted not only by the widespread uptake of vaccinations and testing, but also retailers’ own significant investment in safety measures.

  • “Large cities have been hardest hit by the pandemic, with so many people still working from home and footfall remaining considerably down as shoppers increasingly choose to shop local. Now is the time to consider what our future high streets and town centres will look like a decade from now. We must adapt to these changes, not only to build back better but also to build forward. With vacancy rates still rising in many parts of the country, we must reimagine how we integrate residential and commercial property, allowing us to build stronger local communities that encompass leisure, retail, services, and homes. This will require retailers, property developers and local government to work together and plan city centres that cater to these changing demands and truly innovate the high street model.”