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What do the numbers say about retail spending in a pandemic? – Part 1

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What do the numbers say about retail spending in a pandemic? – Part 1 ©iStockphoto.com/alvarez

In our analysis of consumer spending patterns during the pandemic, we looked at how the pandemic has intersected with changing consumer behavior and societal change. While the blog looked at broad trends, we also noted how such variables as seasonal factors, levels of government support, changes in peoples behavior, spikes in the number of cases and fears over new variants, all affect consumer behavior.

In this blog, we highlight some of the research that looked in detail at consumer behavior in the pandemic.

How much do consumers working from home spend?

An average employee spends more money working from home than working in the office, according to a survey conducted by creditcards.com. While US employees forced to work at home can save on gas and public transit ($33), restaurants ($27) and clothing ($4), they spend an average of $108 more per month on groceries ($182) and utilities ($121).

Another survey found that increased grocery spending could be attributed to consumers visiting multiple stores per shopping trip – for example, wholesale stores for bulk items and then the supermarket for everyday needs – despite making fewer trips overall. The same survey concluded that parents overspend and shop more frequently with children at home since that increases the demand for food.

How much did different generations and demographics spend?

The creditcards.com survey revealed nuances in how much people spent during the pandemic. Those in younger demographics and those with more disposable income said they had increased their expenditure. Some older consumers managed to save.

By Generation By Parental Status      By Income Bracket
Millennials ($208 more)
Parents with children under 18 ($173 more) $40,000 annual income ( $151 more) 
Gen X ($2 less) Non-parents ($103 more) $40,000 to $80,000 ($147   more)
Baby Boomers ($24 less)       N/A $80,000+ ($60 more)

 

How much do consumers spend on education

Deloitte reported that overall spending on education remained unchanged in the pandemic. However, the pandemic shifted how, what and where consumers planned to spend as the school year approached .

Category    Average spending  YoY Change from last year
Clothing and accessories $261 -10%
School supplies  $102   -13%
Computers and hardware $395 +38%
Electronic gadgets & digital subscriptions $316   +4%
Home/Health (COVID 19 Category) $62  N/A

 

Many parents were anxious about sending their children back to school, and this was reflected in an eagerness to spend on technology items such as laptops, tablets and headphones to facilitate online learning.

Where did consumers get money for spending?

At the onset of the pandemic, many governments across the world set aside a budget to support their citizens and businesses in this time of crisis. According to a report10, Japan has the most aggressive response, with a spending package at around 20% of its economy. Spending packages for other countries were:

  • USA (14%)
  • Australia (11%)
  • Canada (8.4%)
  • United Kingdom (1.5%)

Meanwhile, many poorer countries prepared relief responses as well, but they needed to get assistance from international organizations and other donors to execute these. For most countries, the aid was targeted at the people most affected by the pandemic (disadvantaged, disabled, informal sector workers, et.). Among the countries that handed out cash assistance were:

  • Hong Kong : HK$10,000 ($1,280 per adult)
  • USA: $1,200 per adult earners under $99,000
  • Japan: ¥100,000 ($931 per person)
  • South Korea: KRW1m ($820 to families in the bottom 70% income bracket)
  • Singapore – SG$600 ($422)

Other countries opted to rely on safety net programs or unemployment benefits such as UKs Universal Credit to supplement their populations needs. Providing wage subsidies was another strategy employed by many countries to help companies retain their employees by covering their payroll.

The Netherlands was as the most generous for pledging to replace up to 90% of eligible companies’ wage costs. France came next with an offer to cover 84% up to 100% for minimum wage earners. UK and Canada prioritized furloughed employees by offering up to 80% and 75% of employee wages for up to three months, respectively.

Broadly, the consensus is that generous measures worked because they prevented a downward spiral into a full-blown depression. Looking ahead, further measures may still be necessary, especially if the Omicron variant applies added pressure to the world’s health services.