Woman filling car up at a petrol station

Consumer spending grew 13.3 per cent in September

12 October 2021

  • Spending on essential items recorded its highest growth in over two years, as fuel prices climbed and demand at the pumps soared
  • Non-essential items had a smaller uplift than in August, yet pubs, bars & clubs and entertainment saw significant boosts as office workers enjoyed evenings out
  • However, worries about inflation persist, with 90 per cent concerned that the rising cost of everyday items will negatively impact their household finances
  • The Barclaycard report combines hundreds of millions of customer transactions with consumer research to provide an in-depth view of UK spending

Consumer card spending grew 13.3 per cent in September compared to the same period in 2019, as Brits enjoyed the last of the summer sun. However, ongoing supply chain shortages and rising food and energy prices have hampered consumer confidence.

Data from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, reveals that spending on essential items increased 14.4 per cent – the highest uplift in more than two years. This was driven by supermarket shopping (+14.7 per cent), as well as a surge in demand at the pumps and climbing petrol and diesel prices, causing the sharpest growth in fuel spend in over 24 months (+11.1 per cent).  

The ongoing shortage of HGV drivers is also making it more challenging for Brits to source some essentials in supermarkets and grocery stores. Almost half (46 per cent) have reported seeing empty spaces on the shelves and 18 per cent have found it harder than usual to find fresh fruit and vegetables. A further 13 per cent have also found it difficult to purchase soft drinks, frozen goods and fresh fish and meat.

While spending on non-essential items grew 12.9 per cent last month, the increase was slightly smaller than in August (+15.8 per cent), which given rising inflation may also indicate that some consumers are starting to cut-back on discretionary purchases.

The number of Brits who felt confident in their ability to buy non-essential items fell four percentage points in September (59 per cent, compared to 63 per cent in August) – the lowest this figure has been since February 2021, during the third national lockdown.

Consequently, some shoppers are already seeking out value in the purchases they make, as discount stores saw a 29.3 per cent uplift compared to 2019. A further 56 per cent of Brits suggest that if energy prices rise sharply, it will make it harder for them to spend money on nice-to-have items.

The rising cost of everyday items is also causing 90 per cent of consumers to be concerned about the impact on their household finances, and in-turn those who feel optimistic about the economy has fallen month-on-month (31 per cent in comparison to 37 per cent in August).

However, many sectors also saw considerable growth in September, owing in part to workers returning to offices, the onset of a new school term and preparations for the winter months with home improvements and purchases of warmer clothing.

Pubs, bars & clubs benefited from a 43.5 per cent boost as colleagues reunited at post-work gatherings, while entertainment saw its strongest growth in more than two years (+28.0 per cent), with new film releases, gigs and theatre shows encouraging Brits back to venues.

Home improvements and DIY was up 24.1 per cent and department stores and pharmacy, health and beauty retailers rose 3.6 per cent and 17.5 per cent respectively – the sharpest increases for both categories since May 2021.

Although still in decline, travel agents (-45.4 per cent) and airlines (-49.5 per cent) had month-on-month improvements (compared to -53.3 per cent and -53.0 per cent in August), as holidaymakers booked overseas trips to enjoy the end of summer.

Raheel Ahmed, Head of Consumer Products, said: “The return of pupils and workers to schools and offices helped many sectors to see strong uplifts in September. Pubs, bars & clubs and the entertainment industry benefitted from post-work socialising, while international travel was given a boost as holidaymakers jetted off to warmer climes to squeeze in their last trips of summer.

“Consumers are, however, starting to feel the impact of rising prices on their personal finances, which is also hampering confidence levels. While this is causing some Brits to seek out value in their purchases, as the festive season approaches, we expect spending to gradually gather pace as shoppers start buying gifts and preparing for gatherings with loved ones.”

  Spend Growth Transaction Growth
Essential 14.4% 11.1%
Non Essential 12.9% 26.6%
OVERALL 13.3% 20.0%
Retail 21.4% 16.4%
Clothing 10.1% -1.9%
Grocery 19.1% 14.2%
Supermarkets 14.7% 7.4%
Food & Drink Specialist 74.0% 74.0%
Household 17.1% 4.7%
Home Improvements & DIY 24.1% 16.0%
Electronics 2.2% -5.4%
Furniture Stores 22.6% -3.0%
General Retailers 37.3% 38.5%
General Retailers & Catalogues 53.3% 61.6%
Department Stores 3.6% 0.0%
Discount Stores 29.3% 14.2%
Specialist Retailers 21.1% 10.5%
Pharmacy, Health & Beauty 17.5% 7.8%
Sports & Outdoor 27.0% 10.6%
Other Specialist Retailers 20.8% 13.5%
Hospitality & Leisure 7.8% 27.1%
Digital Content & Subscription 31.5% 48.1%
Eating & Drinking 46.2% 33.0%
Restaurants -2.1% -16.6%
Bars, Pubs & Clubs 43.5% 45.4%
Takeaways and Fast Food 69.1% 38.2%
Other Food & Drink 50.5% 32.7%
Entertainment 28.0% 42.0%
Hotels, Resorts & Accomodation 14.4% 18.8%
Travel -36.0% -4.9%
Travel Agents -45.4% -32.7%
Airlines -49.5% -38.7%
Public Transport -25.7% -7.8%
Other Travel -3.4% 12.6%
Other 2.3% 16.6%
Fuel 11.1% 9.5%
Motoring 3.5% 23.6%
Other Services -2.9% 25.0%
Online 20.6% 46.7%
F2F 8.3% 11.7%


Notes to editors

We have changed the way we produce our monthly Consumer Spending Index. Starting in March, all calculations moved to a two-year comparison (i.e. comparing September 2021 against September 2019), instead of a year-on-year comparison. This includes any prior period comparisons included in the release (e.g. comparing July 2020 to July 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.  

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 21st August to 24th September 2021. It is compared with 24th August to 27th September 2019.

The consumer confidence survey in this press release was carried out between 24th and 27th September 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 oliver.stevenson@barclaycard.co.uk  or on +44 (0)7880 184 177 or Rebecca Butler at rebecca.butler@barclaycard.co.uk 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 insights.uk.barclays/MCI or email contact-MCI@barclays.com.