However, venues showed signs of recovery since restrictions eased in July. Prior to the Omicron Covid variant arrival, consumers made up for lost time in pubs, bars and clubs which recorded positive growth in the second half of the year, including a 43% increase in September.
Overall, consumer spending grew by 5.9% in 2021 compared to 2019, fuelled by demand for online shopping, at-home experiences and outdoor pursuits.
“It is encouraging to see that many categories have enjoyed growth in what has been another turbulent year, said Clare Bailey, independent retail expert and founder of the Retail Champion.
She added: “While the economic impact of Omicron remains to be seen, we can admire the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors for once again adapting to ever-evolving circumstances and overcoming so many challenges this year.”
Even as non-essential stores began to reopen, consumers’ spending habits continued to show a demand for speed and ease. Food and drink specialist stores, such as butchers and meal-kit providers, saw particularly strong growth of 74%, with spending perhaps shifting away from dining out to these sectors.
The data also revealed a surge in online shopping at the beginning of the year as the hospitality industry remained closed due to Covid restrictions. Online retail increased by 87.7% in March 2021 compared to 2019, accounting for just over half of all retail spend.
Barclaycard head of consumer products Jose Carvalho said: “2021 was another challenging year, as the pandemic continued to hamper the UK economy.
“However, categories such as local food retailers, takeaways and digital entertainment continued to do well, thanks to Brits’ demand for convenient, local, and at-home shopping experiences”.
2022 would bring fresh challenges to consumers and businesses such as rising household bills and inflation, said Carvalho. However, the adaptability of companies and determination of the British public to succeed meant he remained “optimistic” about the new year.