UK consumer spending up a third since pre-pandemic


Data released by UTP Merchant Services, provider of credit card machines to small and medium size businesses, reveals consumer spending is up on average by a third (32%) across the UK since Covid-19 restrictions eased, compared with an equivalent period pre-pandemic in April 2019.

Of those regions where restrictions eased on 12 April 2021, Wales has seen the greatest rise, with a 67% increase in card spending and London the least with a 23% increase. However, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with restrictions still in force, have only seen a 3% and 2% increase in spending respectively.

In addition, data from UTP Merchant Services reveals contactless transactions are up significantly year on year since 2018. Incredibly, in just three years, average contactless card payments across the UK have risen from 55% in 2018 to 84% today, an overall rise of 29%, as we move towards a contactless card society.

Northern Ireland has seen the greatest leap, with a shift to card payments of almost 50% in three years, rising from just 34% in 2018 to 82% in 2021.

Regional Spending and Covid-19

Spending across all regions in the UK is up, comparing card usage in the three weeks post 12 April 2021, when restrictions eased in England, with the equivalent three weeks in April 2019. This is great news for business owners and proof that consumers are already rushing back to shops and restaurants and willing to spend. This is set to continue with restrictions easing further in England on 17 May 2021, with further openings expected on 21 June. Wales is also expected to relax restrictions on 17 May; however Northern Ireland will have to wait until 24 May for indoor hospitality to resume, and later for indoor sport. In Scotland, indoor hospitality is expected to resume on 17 May with further relaxation of restrictions expected in early June.

Overall card spend by region

Card spending by region. Comparing the same period April / May 2019 to same period (post -lockdown and restrictions easing) in April/May 2021


CHANGE FROM April/May 2019 to April/May 2021

North East


North West


South East








South West


West Midlands


East of England


East Midlands


Yorkshire and The Humber


Northern Ireland


Average overall


From the data, UTP Merchant Services reveals:

  • Overall, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, there hasn’t been a great up lift in spending just yet, but they are behind in opening restrictions and this is expected to rise drastically in the coming weeks
  • It is promising that in the North East and the East of England, the uplift is already 62% and 46% respectively even though parts of the economy are still shut
  • The North West and East Midlands have also seen increases of 34% and 46% respectively, which will only increase even further when hospitality and accommodation opens fully.
  • London has seen a 23% increase which is low in comparison to other regions, however this is expected to jump when the theatres and attractions open, tourists are welcomed back, and office-based commuters return to the city for work
  • The South East and South West, both tourist hotspots, have seen an almost identical increase in spending with 24% and 26% respectively, compared to the same period in April 2019. Again, these figures are likely to surge as hospitality, leisure, accommodation opens fully
  • Wales has seen the most significant increase in card spending across all regions with a 67% rise in spending in April 2021 compared to the equivalent period in 2019. Despite a fall in revenue for hotels and restaurants, spending on outdoor equipment, camping and caravan sites, car sales and building materials has boosted overall spending

In addition, there has been a significant shift towards contactless payments, with consumers moving away from chip and pin, as well as preferring to use card over cash in a post-covid world. These figures are set to rise further when, as confirmed by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), changes to its rules later in the year will allow an increase in the single transaction contactless payment threshold from £45 to £100. The contactless threshold for multiple transactions will also increase from £130 currently to £300.

From the data by UTP Merchant Services, we can see a breakdown of contactless usage by region:

  • Each region within the UK has seen an increase, year on year, in contactless card usage.
  • Northern Ireland has seen the greatest leap with a shift to contactless card payments of almost 50% in three years, rising from just 34% in 2018 to 82% in 2021.
  • Wales has seen a steady increase year on year since 2018 with an increase in 24% using contactless
  • London has seen the least increase in contactless transactions at 22%, however the level was much greater than any other region in 2018 with 65% preferring contactless over chip and pin.
  • England and Scotland are on par with their levels of contactless card spending, with 56% of card spending in England in 2019 and Scotland 55%, to 83% and 84% respectively
  • Incredibly, in just three years, average contactless card payments across the UK have risen from 55% in 2018 to current contactless rates at 84%, as we become a contactless card society

This UTP Merchant Services data below is for contactless card usage across the regions, comparing face to face card transactions from 2018 through to 2021:


Michael Ault, CEO and founder of UTP Merchant Services, says: “The affect the Covid-19 pandemic has had on card transactions is monumental. Not only has Covid-19 led to a reduction in the use of cash, but it has also resulted in the increase in contactless payments. This trend has meant that merchants need to develop their payment solutions to keep up with the increased demand as lockdown restrictions lift”.

In addition, please see some stats detailing the sector spending across the UK:

Industry Analysis: The winners and losers since some businesses re-opened on 12 April 2021

Industry Analysis from UTP Merchant Services shows winners and losers, comparing data in the three-week period since businesses started to reopen on 12 April 2021, to the same period pre-pandemic in 2019.
With the rise in staycations, the sector with the greatest uplift in sales since pre-pandemic is outdoor equipment including swimming pools and hot tubs, seeing an incredible 200% uplift on the equivalent period in 2019, along with camping and caravan sites with bookings up 86%. By contrast, lodging hotels and motels are down 51% in the same period in April 2019.
Recreation, sport and culture has seen a 51% increase in spending in the same three-week period between April 2019 and April 2021.
Saturday 1 May was an all-time record for card processing – combination of payday and a bank holiday weekend. Evidence, that card throughput is up 32%, even after taking account of restaurants and accommodation services which are still down by 16% on 2019 levels.  Points towards a significant surge from 17 May.
No surprise that housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels have seen an increase in 49% with everyone staying at home
Most marked improvement overall in furnishings and household equipment – up 57%.
Businesses are recognising the need for more flexibility. Portable/mobile devices have increased from 68% of the total to 77% of the total.
With interest rates low and those in the fortunate position of having surplus money to spend, and not able to gain much in interest in having savings in the banks, investing in antiques that will hold and further value has helped with an uplift of 108% in Antique dealer sales. 
Contractors, employed for home and industry improvements while businesses remain closed, experienced a rise of 118%.
With people still avoiding public transport, taxis and limousines have benefitted with an 82% rise in sales and those opting to cycle in the fresh air has increased sales of bicycles by two thirds (68%).
There has been a lot of heartache and many businesses have witnessed sales falling through the floor. With all weddings and events cancelled in 2020, photographers were hard hit, however since businesses have started to re-open and consumer confidence is rising bookings are higher than they were, yet still down are still down 50% on the same period in 2019.


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