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Community spirit: four ways the coronavirus outbreak is changing our spending habits

18 May 2020 06:00

In many ways, coronavirus has impacted our lives yet the last couple of months have really shown us what our communities are made of – and how small actions can make a big difference. As people form spontaneous aid groups to help their friends and neighbours, and thousands volunteer for the NHS, it’s clear that the community spirit of the nation is alive and well.

Our priorities this year have changed, and so have our spending habits. Processing almost half of all UK transactions, consumer spend data from Barclaycard has revealed some fundamental shifts in the way we are parting with money. Many of these changes demonstrate how local communities are pulling together in these challenging times, prioritising health and safety, the welfare of friends, family and neighbours, and thinking more consciously about where and how to buy essentials.

We explore the community stories being told by Barclaycard research and data, and how short-term changes could pave the way for a brighter future, together.

1. We are spending for others

You need only open your window at 8pm on a Thursday to hear communities standing as one in support of the NHS. From musicians giving uplifting recitals at balcony windows, to residents encouraging their neighbours outside for a doorstep workout, the stories we’re seeing in the news and on social media really do drive home what a community issue this is. Just a few weeks ago, visiting the supermarket hardly warranted thinking about, the aim being to get in and out for your big shop as efficiently as possible. According to Barclaycard research however, since the outbreak of coronavirus, 41 per cent of Brits have checked in with vulnerable neighbours to see if they need any help with their shopping. As people get to know their neighbours, albeit from a safe distance, it's inspiring to see just how much we can all pull together during a crisis.

2. We are spending more consciously 

During the early stages of the pandemic, many of us were caught off guard by the empty shelves in supermarkets, as some shoppers bought extra provisions to prepare for lockdown. This left many without essential supplies. As major food stores sought to address the supply-and-demand problem through designated shopping hours for vulnerable shoppers and key workers, limiting items per customer, and keeping back essentials for NHS workers, we have also witnessed more thoughtful patterns among supermarket customers in recent weeks. Having quickly adapted to new supermarket rules, such as queuing outside and observing social distancing, Barclaycard research has revealed that 71 per cent of Brits have adjusted their own behaviour while shopping, with many now making a conscious effort not to leave others empty-handed, avoiding stockpiling food, and generally being more mindful when they shop. 

3. We are spending more at local, independent businesses

There has never been a more important time to support local businesses. Many SMEs have closed for business but some have looked to pivot their business models, doing everything they can to transform their offering to suit the new normal. Many have now launched online, or established a home delivery service. Barclaycard research also revealed that 55 per cent of consumers want to show their support for nearby businesses during lockdown. The data showed specialist food and drink stores such as off-licences and greengrocers saw spends growth increase by 37.7 per cent in April, as the nation chose to buy locally and support independent businesses.

4. We are spending using contactless technology

Contactless has been around in the UK since 2007, and Barclays has been working to drive this concept forward ever since – with new cards, devices, and innovations designed to keep the UK spending seamlessly. Yet in recent months, contactless has become an even more familiar way of life. As extra measures are put in place to keep customers safe while they shop, the contactless limit increased from £30 to £45 on April 1st. This enables customers to make more substantial payments, whether at the supermarket or pharmacy, without touching payment terminals or handling cash.

Not only has this seen the average ‘cashless’ spend increase from £9.28 to just shy of £14, it has also resulted in 43 per cent of total in-store transactions now being made via contactless. Since this change, Barclaycard has processed 7 million contactless payments (and counting) above the previous limit of £30 and up to the new limit of £45 – enabling customers up and down the UK to stock up on their everyday essentials with more confidence. We’ve also seen solid growth in the use of contactless globally over the past couple of months, with contactless caps also rising in other European countries, including Spain, Italy and Germany.

It seems that although the current measures may be in place to keep us apart, the UK is coming together more. While none of us know precisely what the future may hold, we hope that this nationwide sense of togetherness is here to stay.