Pet shops and vets outperformed other specialist UK retail categories last month, growing by nearly a third compared with April 2019.
According to figures released this week, consumer spending grew by 0.4% in April compared with the same period in 2019 – the first growth recorded this year – while consumer confidence in the UK economy is the highest it’s been since the onset of the pandemic.
Data from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, reveals that spending on essential items rose 10.1% compared with April 2019, the highest growth since August 2020. This was boosted by supermarket shopping, which saw an 18.5% increase overall.
The specialist retail category grew by 9.3% overall – with pet stores and vets seeing the strongest growth (32.4%) compared with two years ago. Barclaycard says this jump suggests animal-loving Brits have not only added new companions to their households but are indulging their pets with treats and new accessories.
Meanwhile, fuel spend saw less of a decline, dropping by 8.1% compared with a 20.1% decline in March, in a sign that Brits have been travelling more often to see friends and family.
Face-to-face spending at food and drink specialist stores – including butchers, bakeries and greengrocers – saw a significant uplift compared with 2019, showing that shoppers continued to visit local retailers. In fact, four in 10 (42%) consumers say they’re more likely to shop locally than before the pandemic, and nearly half (47%) describe the high street as the heart of their community, which they are keen to support.
As shops across England re-opened, overall spending on non-essential items saw its smallest decrease so far this year, falling 4.4% compared with 2019. Face-to-face non-essential retail showed promising signs of recovery, with a decline of 17.4% compared with a sharper 50.5% drop in March.
While spending at clothing and department stores dipped by 6.6% and 7.8% respectively, these were clear improvements on the 28.6% and 35.8% declines seen in March. In fact, spending on clothing among 16 to 24-year olds grew 2.1%, while other age groups remained in decline, suggesting that younger shoppers were purchasing new outfits for socialising with friends in preparation for lockdown easing.
Sports and outdoor retailers were another bright spot as gyms and golf courses re-opened in England and encouraged sports fans to spend more time exercising and outside.
As shoppers enjoyed being able to browse for new products in-store again, spending on furniture saw a 27.1% uplift compared with 2019 – the largest growth since August 2020 – while home improvement & DIY stores also continued to perform strongly, with a 37.5% growth.
While many hospitality venues reopened in England, the industry’s limitations on outdoor dining coupled with a relatively chilly April meant there was only a moderate improvement in spending at bars and pubs (-67.2%) and restaurants (-74.4%) compared with March, which saw respective declines of 94.8% and 83.1% versus 2019. Takeaways and fast food continued to prove the most popular dining option, with this category seeing its highest growth on record (59.9%).
However, spending in the hospitality sector should improve with the potential further easing of restrictions next week, with a third (33%) of people saying they are willing to spend extra money on entertainment and leisure activities such as drinks or meals out compared to before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the travel industry continued to be hit hard by ongoing international travel restrictions, with airlines and travel agents seeing steep declines of 82.1 per cent and 82.0 per cent respectively. However, resorts and accommodation continued to see improvement, as the category saw positive growth of 1.6 per cent as many Brits consider their holidays in the UK this summer.
Moreover, spending on ‘staycations’ by the over 50s has grown much faster than other age groups, rising 15% compared with a 32.2% decline in spending among 16 to 24-year olds. This can likely be attributed to the vaccination roll-out, as well as the availability and affordability of older age-groups to commit to spending on UK holidays.
The nation is feeling more optimistic about the future, with confidence in the UK economy jumping to 36% in April, from 28% in March. This is the highest since February 2020 – before the onset of the pandemic.
Following the lifting of restrictions in England, more than a quarter (28%) of consumers find they appreciate the simple pleasure of going out more than they used to before lockdown, while 17% say they are happier or more relaxed than they have been for a long time.
Raheel Ahmed, head of consumer products at Barclaycard, said: “The easing of restrictions provided a promising boost to a number of sectors in April, with consumer spending back in growth and confidence in the UK economy at its highest level since before the onset of the pandemic…
“The economy should hopefully gather momentum as we head into the summer and see the re-opening of indoor hospitality venues. Yet, what is most encouraging is that the easing of restrictions seems to have lifted the nation’s spirits, with many Brits relishing the simple pleasures of dining out and making social plans.”
All growth calculations have moved to a two-year comparison, to provide a more realistic view of the UK’s long-term recovery from the impact of coronavirus