Consumer spending grew 0.2 per cent year-on-year in August – the first uplift since February 2020 – as Brits enjoyed the last of summer by socialising and holidaying in the UK.

Data from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, has revealed that spending on essential items grew 5.1 per cent year-on-year, largely driven by supermarket shopping which was up 14.9 per cent.

While lower prices at the petrol pump contributed to fuel spend declining 13.3 per cent, the number of transactions returned to similar levels seen last year, down just 2.4 per cent, as consumers embarked on staycations and gradually started returning to workplaces.

Spending on non-essential items contracted 1.6 per cent – the smallest fall since the onset of lockdown – as the nation became more comfortable visiting stores. In a positive sign for the retail sector, clothing saw growth of 0.3 per cent, the first increase since March 2019, as shoppers took advantage of end-of-season sales. Spending at department stores also saw improvement, with the smallest drop (-3.6 per cent) in the category since February 2020.

Despite a steady return to the high street, the data indicates the months of lockdown have accelerated a sustained shift towards online shopping. The highest category increases are seen across supermarkets, which showed a considerable 102.7 per cent year-on-year rise as the popularity of online food orders prevailed, and online clothing, which grew 24.3 per cent.

Spending at pubs and bars was a bright spot, with year-on-year growth in transactions of 9.3 per cent – the first uplift since the start of lockdown – as punters took advantage of the last of summer by socialising with friends and family.

However, while some consumers enjoyed getting out and about, it seems lockdown has also increased the shift towards online when it comes to meal times too. Takeaways & fast food saw their highest increase (20.7 per cent) since tracking began for this category in September 2019, while meal subscription services rose by 65.8 per cent as fresh, hassle-free dinner options became a mainstay in many households.

In a hopeful sign for the leisure sector, hotels, resorts & accommodation saw their smallest decline since lockdown began, at -19.1 per cent year-on-year; an improvement on July (-29.9 per cent) as holidaymakers booked staycations during the school summer holidays. However, travel – including airlines and travel agents – declined by 61.0 per cent compared to August 2019, as international travel restrictions and quarantine guidelines continued to impact the sector.

While the nation’s confidence in the UK economy has fallen to its lowest (19 per cent) since Barclaycard started the Index six years ago (compared to 42 per cent in January and February 2020), confidence in household finances remains steady at 68 per cent. This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that 45 per cent have saved money because they were unable to go abroad this summer, with nearly a quarter (23 per cent) putting the money into savings instead.

Raheel Ahmed, Head of Consumer Products, said “It’s encouraging to see the first uplift in spending after such a turbulent time for retailers. It seems the final throws of summer have spurred households to get out and about with clothing stores, pubs and bars welcoming growth for the first time since lockdown began.”

“However, despite the high-street showing some signs of recovery, challenging times still lay ahead in certain sectors. Months of lockdown has helped accelerate the trend towards digital, with surges in areas such as online ordering of takeaways and buying groceries online, meaning the road to recovery may still be a long one for brick-and-mortar stores.”

“Retailers may take reassurance from the fact that household confidence remains steady, and of course, the restaurant sector also benefitted from the boost provided by the Eat Out To Help Out Scheme. As this discount comes to an end, and the lure of pub gardens slip away with the sunshine, we will see the resilience of businesses truly tested as we head into autumn.”