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How COVID-19 has impacted UK consumer spending habits

1 April 2020 Data Insights

On the 17th March 2020, the UK Prime Minister announced the closure of all restaurants, pubs, cafés, and music venues/theatres across the country. Less than a week later, all non-essential retailers shut their doors as the nation prepared to commence its ‘lockdown’.

This has undoubtedly caused the biggest disruption to the retail and hospitality industries this decade. The effects of COVID-19 and our essential need to socially isolate, have had an unprecedented and widely unpredictable impact on our spending habits. 

Paymentsense transaction data from across the UK has revealed the true impact of Coronavirus on our high-streets. The data has also thrown up some interesting consumer trends that have arisen, as we adapt to our new homebound lifestyle.

Panic buying pets

Aside from the toilet roll hoarding and pasta stockpiling, one of the more surprising uplifts was for pet supply stores, who have seen a 50% weekly increase. This may just be an extension of bulk-buying for ourselves, as we prepare to spend longer indoors with our furry friends. 

Alternatively, this new surge may be explained by the increased number of people adopting pets, to keep them company during their social distancing. Battersea dogs and cats home has seen a considerable increase in adoptions year-on-year. Rob Jones, Head of Operations said:

“It is not surprising that people in self-isolation are seeking companionship. As many people are preparing to spend a significant amount of time at home over the coming weeks, it is only expected that some may be thinking about the companionship a pet could offer.”

UK goes green fingered

As the clocks go forward and our days get longer and lighter, we’re flocking to our back gardens to get some well-needed fresh air. However, after a drawn out winter hiatus, some of us need to put in a bit of work, to get the dream green sanctuary we need, to escape from our WFH setup. 

Luckily, we’ve got the time to spare, and gardening stores have certainly seen a benefit from isolation, with sales up by more than a third (39%).

Tyred of the indoors

In order to keep our minds and bodies active, the UK Prime Minister encouraged one outing per day for exercise, either on our own or with a family member. As a result, bike shop sales have experienced a 24% uplift as both keen cyclists and amateurs are fixing their old bikes or buying new ones, in an effort to keep active.

Handy at home

It’s not just gardens that are getting a spruce up, as some Brits prepare for up to 12 weeks of self-isolation, DIY and home supply stores have seen a huge weekly sales increase of 47%.

Scale of stock-piling revealed

Supermarkets and grocers have also seen an incredible increase of 52% in sales. This is unsurprising, as we know that people have bulk bought in large supplies, in case they are unable to leave their home. 

Additionally, with the closure of all food and beverage businesses for dine-ins, many of us will be purchasing more food from our local supermarkets to cook lunches and evening meals.  

With 50 million Brits eating out in the UK each year, the closure of restaurants, cafés and brasseries has also had a ripple effect. These diners will be seeking to buy more from supermarkets, and the industry saw sales plummet by 21% from last week’s figures, and a further decline is expected over the coming weeks.

Jon Knott Head of Market Insights at Paymentsense commented:

“We’re a nation of diners. In fact, our Restaurant Insights Report released earlier this year found that yearly 50 million adults eat out in Great Britain, with three-quarters of us doing so at least once a month. As people aren’t able to dine out and they’re preparing for a 3-week isolation period, we’ve seen the likes of retail spend in butchers and local grocers increase by 50% vs. an average week.”

“Local grocers have also seen an increase in their average transaction value by 20%, as more people are stock-piling. We expect this trend to continue, if not increase, and essential retail to remain the biggest spend for consumers.”

Contactless limit increased

As of the 1st of April 2020, the limit for contactless card transactions has increased from £30 to £45. This is in a bid to help the spread of COVID-19 through the handling of cash, as it allows more people to transact without having to touch the card machine to enter their pin.

If you’re a paymentsense customer, find out how to reset your card machine settings to update your contactless offering.

While this should benefit all trading businesses, our data shows that it will have a lasting impact for three key industries in the long term. The average transaction value for retail, cleaning/laundry, and personal services (i.e. beauty, salons) is above £30, but below £45.

The increase in contactless limit will see these industries feel the benefit from an easier payment transaction both now and in the future.


About the data:

Data is compiled from Paymentsense’s own transactions data from over 80,000 businesses in the UK and Ireland.

Data covers 7 days of 14th-20th March VS. 7th-13th March.

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