UK promenade

Consumer spending fell 7.2 per cent in March, while Hospitality & Leisure showed signs of recovery as Brits began making post-lockdown holiday and social plans

  • Spending on essential items grew 7.7 per cent compared to 2019, bolstered by strong growth in food and drink specialist stores
  • While spending on non-essentials dropped 14.5 per cent, spending on accommodation and entertainment showed signs of improvement as Brits began to book post-lockdown trips and activities
  • Ecommerce continued to surge across multiple categories, with triple-digit growth recorded in online spending for grocery, eating & drinking, and general retail   
  • Starting this month, 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*
  • The Barclaycard report combines hundreds of millions of customer transactions with consumer research to provide an in-depth view of UK spending

Consumer spending fell 7.2 per cent in March compared to the same period in 2019, as lockdown continued. However, spending on hotels, resorts and accommodation, as well as entertainment, showed early signs of improvement as Brits began to make plans for when restrictions are lifted.

Data from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, reveals that spending on essential items grew 7.7 per cent compared to March 2019, the highest growth so far this year. This was bolstered by food and drink specialist stores – including butchers, greengrocers, fresh food boxes and meal-kit products – which saw a 71.4 per cent uplift, as Brits relied on the convenience of local shops and delivery services for their weekly meals. 

Supermarket shopping rose 21.9 per cent overall, with online grocery spend surging 116.5 per cent, as home deliveries for food shopping remained in high demand.

While non-essential spend was down 14.5 per cent compared to 2019, this represents a slight improvement compared to the previous two months of lockdown, with January and February seeing declines of 20.8 per cent and 18.3 per cent when compared to 2019.

With many brick-and-mortar shops remaining closed, clothing contracted 28.6 per cent compared to the same period in 2019; the largest two-year drop recorded in the category since May 2020. Meanwhile, the hospitality sector continued to be hit hard by the restrictions, as bars and pubs as well as restaurants saw declines of 94.8 per cent and 83.1 per cent respectively.

However, there are signs that spending at restaurants should improve after further easing of restrictions on 12th April, as one in four Brits (26 per cent) have already been booking post-lockdown activities, with 41 per cent of these consumers booking restaurant reservations for meals outdoors. On the other hand, ordering takeaways online proved as popular as ever, with the eating and drinking category recording a 128.5 per cent surge in online spend.

There was also a glimmer of hope for the travel industry; the 54.3 per cent decline in spending on hotels, resorts and accommodation was an improvement on the respective 75.4 per cent and 70.3 per cent declines seen in January and February, suggesting that holidaymakers have started to book trips for later in the year. This comes as over two fifths of Brits (41 per cent) say they are planning a vacation in the UK in 2021, rather than hoping for an overseas trip. Of these UK-bound holidaymakers, 41 per cent are planning to spend more than they normally would travelling abroad.

In another sign that consumers are making plans to look forward to after lockdown, entertainment – which includes leisure activities such as family days out, theme parks and gym memberships – also saw an improvement in spending, declining 57.9 per cent compared to 83.2 per cent last month. Spending at sports & outdoor retailers also recovered slightly, dropping just 5.9 per cent compared to 11.7 per cent in February, as Brits prepare to spend more time outside as the spring weather arrives.

Despite declines seen across a number of categories, some sectors saw particularly strong uplifts in March. When compared to figures two years ago, home improvements and DIY rose 34.4 per cent – the highest growth in the category since July 2020 – as more households bought items to prepare their homes and gardens for the warmer months.

Retail spend grew 17.9 per cent overall, thanks largely to the continued rise of ecommerce – online retail transactions increased 84.7 per cent compared to 2019, accounting for 51.6 per cent of all retail spend in March. Furthermore, online general retailers – such as online marketplaces and catalogue shops – increased 110.0 per cent, and online specialist retailers – including florists and jewellery stores – saw 95.7 per cent growth, as Brits bought presents for Mother’s Day.

Confidence in the UK economy remains at 28 per cent, although some consumers are sceptical about the UK’s longer-term prospects, with six in 10 (61 per cent) expecting the lifting of lockdown restrictions to be short-lived and that there will be another lockdown in the UK before the end of the year.

On the other hand, the number of Brits feeling upbeat about their household finances rose from 68 per cent last month to 72 per cent in March. Almost two thirds (61 per cent) are feeling confident about their ability to spend on non-essential items – the highest proportion since before the pandemic began – and almost half (47 per cent) are feeling upbeat about their job prospects.

Raheel Ahmed, Head of Consumer Products, said: “With springtime finally here and restrictions starting to ease, it’s encouraging to see a renewed sense of optimism across much of the UK. There are also signs that some of those sectors most heavily impacted by the pandemic, such as hotels, resorts, accommodation and entertainment, are beginning to turn a corner, as many look forward to long-awaited trips and activities with family and friends after lockdown.

As Brits spent March sprucing up their homes and garden in preparation for warmer weather, DIY stores also enjoyed significant growth. While it remains a very challenging environment for high-street and hospitality outlets, the fact that many consumers are making plans for the future is a positive sign, and we hope to see this pent-up demand lead to growth in more categories as life after lockdown starts to resume.”

  Spend Growth Transaction Growth
Essential 7.7% -4.6%
Non Essential -14.5% -11.4%
OVERALL -7.2% -8.4%
Retail 17.9% 4.6%
Clothing -28.6% -45.3%
Grocery 25.6% 5.4%
Supermarkets 21.9% 1.0%
Food & Drink Specialist 71.4% 41.7%
Household 19.6% 10.9%
Home Improvements & DIY 34.4% 31.9%
Electronics 8.5% 3.7%
Furniture Stores 1.5% -34.1%
General Retailers 48.1% 38.2%
General Retailers & Catalogues 87.5% 75.4%
Department Stores -35.8% -42.3%
Discount Stores 55.1% 18.4%
Specialist Retailers -11.5% -26.9%
Pharmacy, Health & Beauty -28.8% -33.6%
Sports & Outdoor -5.9% -39.3%
Other Specialist Retailers -0.8% -18.0%
Hospitality & Leisure -58.5% -45.6%
Eating & Drinking -39.9% -37.8%
Restaurants -83.1% -79.4%
Bars, Pubs & Clubs -94.8% -96.2%
Takeaways and Fast Food 48.6% 8.0%
Other Food & Drink -55.2% -41.2%
Entertainment -57.9% -78.4%
Hotels, Resorts & Accomodation -54.3% -77.5%
Travel -73.7% -53.8%
Travel Agents -78.0% -68.1%
Airlines -75.7% -80.0%
Other Travel -66.3% -51.9%
Other -8.5% 7.9%
Digital Content & Subscription 62.7% 59.1%
Fuel -20.1% -12.1%
Motoring -28.6% -35.1%
Other Services -1.6% -2.3%
Online 24.9% 46.3%
F2F -29.4% -26.1%


– Ends –

Notes to editors

*We have changed the way we produce our monthly Consumer Spending Index. Starting this month, all calculations have moved to a two-year comparison (i.e. comparing March 2021 against March 2019), instead of a year-on-year comparison. This includes any prior period comparisons included in the release (e.g. comparing May 2020 to May 2018), to ensure that all comparisons are like-for-like. This provides a more realistic view of the UK’s long-term recovery from the impact of coronavirus, and of whether spending has returned to pre-pandemic levels. In parallel, we have also made some minor adjustments to a small number of categories that comprise ‘essential’ spending, to reflect wider changes in consumer spending behaviour and habits.

Established in 2014, Barclaycard issues a monthly press release commenting on consumer spending trends.

Barclaycard sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, which provides us with unique insight into UK consumer spending. The monthly spending data in this press release is based on Barclaycard credit card and Barclays debit card transactions, and is analysed by the Barclays Market and Customer Insights team. It relates to the period 20th February 2021 to 26th March 2021. It is compared with 23rd February 2019 to 29th March 2019.

The consumer confidence survey in this press release was carried out between 26th and 29th March 2021 by Longitude Research on behalf of Barclaycard. There were 2,000 respondents, providing a representative sample of UK consumers by age, gender, region, and income group.

For more information, please contact please contact Oliver Stevenson at  or on +44 (0)7880 184 177 or Rebecca Butler at or +44 (0)7881 318 767.

About Barclaycard

Barclaycard, part of Barclays Bank PLC, is a leading global payment business that helps consumers, retailers and businesses to make and take payments flexibly, and to access short-term credit. In the UK we process nearly £1 in every £3 spent using credit and debit cards, and in 2020 we processed over £267bn in transactions globally. We also partner with a wide range of organisations across the globe to offer their customers or members payment options and credit.

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About Barclays Market and Customer Insights

Barclays Market and Customer Insights helps businesses keep up to date with spending trends, monitors their market position and enhances their understanding of customer behaviour, based on actual customer spending. Visit or email