Consumer spending growth slowed to just 1.6 per cent in March, its lowest level in two years, as consumers reined in purchases in nearly all categories.
The figure marked the third successive month of a spending slump and dragged down overall growth for the first three months of the year to 2.8 per cent – the worst performance in seven quarters.
According to the latest data from Barclaycard, which processes nearly half of all credit and debit card transactions in the UK, women’s clothing spend fell 1.2 per cent in March and family clothing flatlined at 0 per cent, as a wet and windy start to the month discouraged shoppers from updating their wardrobes for spring.
Garden centres also suffered from the unsettled weather with spending growth falling 3.5 per cent year-on-year. Travel spending slowed to 0.8 per cent from 5.1 per cent in February, which saw a pre-Easter spike in bookings. This was the lowest level of growth for the category since June 2014.
Consumers who stayed in the UK continued to treat themselves and their families, however, with pubs and restaurants two of a small number of categories to maintain a strong level of growth in March, both up 11.9 per cent, boosted by Easter and Mother’s Day.
Cinema spend was the star performer, climbing 12.8 per cent, helped by the release of Batman v. Superman and the continuing popularity of Zoolander No. 2 and Deadpool.
With the long Easter weekend at the end of the month, Brits entertained at home, pushing supermarket spending up 2 per cent, the strongest rate of growth in 14 months. Barclaycard research found people are increasingly compartmentalising their regular grocery shopping, with one in two using a combination of discount and mainstream stores to get the best deals on their weekly shop.
Consumer thriftiness comes as households face a challenging economic landscape. Only one in three (34 per cent) Brits feel upbeat about the UK economy, fewer than at any time since Barclaycard began collecting this data in Q3 2014.