Events on the high street continue to grab the headlines. These are incredibly difficult times for retailers as households’ spending power continues to be squeezed and, in conjunction with technological change, households’ spending habits continue to evolve. In this blog we examine what the latest data from Consumer Trends tells us about the composition of household spending.
There are 12 broad categories of household spending. Each tells us something about the amount of expenditure in the UK by both UK and foreign households. In 2012 Q3, the value of household consumption taking place within the UK was £242 billion. During the whole of 2011, spending amounted to £929 billion. In real terms (after adjusting for price changes) spending in the UK fell by 1 per cent in 2011. Evidence of a rebound is limited. In the year to 2012 Q3, the volume of spending was just 0.8 per cent higher. In contrast, from 1998 to 2007 the average real rate of growth was 3.5 per cent.
As Chart 1 shows, the largest component of household spending in the UK is on spending associated with running a home. This component includes rents, expenditures incurred in undertaking routine maintenance and the payments for electricity, gas and water. Since 1997 this component has typically accounted for (after adjusting for price changes) 24 per cent of household consumption in the UK (22 per cent in 2012 Q3). The second largest consumption category is transport. This includes expenditure on purchasing vehicles, fuels, maintenance of vehicles and the costs of rail and air transport. It has typically accounted for about 15 per cent of expenditure (14 per cent in 2012 Q3).
Chart 2 shows the real annual rate of growth in expenditure of our 12 consumption categories from 1998 Q1 to 2007 Q4 and so before the financial crisis really took hold. It enables us to measure how the volume of purchases changes over a 12-month period. From it, we can see that all categories, except education, contributed to the positive real growth of household spending in the UK. The fastest growing component was clothing and footwear recording real growth of almost 11 per cent per year. The second most rapidly growing component was recreation and culture, which includes items ranging from package holidays, garden plants and musical instruments to sports equipment, cameras and books. This component grew, after adjusting for inflation, by nearly 9 per cent per year.
Chart 3 focuses on the real annual rate of growth since 2008 Q1. It paints a very different picture. Now only four categories have on average recorded positive annual rates of growth. Again, the volume of purchases of clothing and footwear has grown most rapidly by 6.3 per cent per year. While purchases on items associated with recreation and culture continue to grow, the annual rate of growth since 2008 is only 1.5 per cent compared with 9 per cent prior in the previous 10 years or so.
(Click here for a PowerPoint of all three charts.)
One category of spending that has been especially badly affected by events since 2008 has been household goods and services. This includes items such as furniture, major and small household appliances (including electrical appliances), carpets and tools. While the volume of purchases grew by 5 per cent per year from 1998 to 2007, since 2008 they have typically contracted at a rate of 3 per cent per year. This category helps to illustrate the difficult trading environment currently faced by many businesses in the UK.
Surprise UK retail sales drop fuels trip-dip recession fears The Guardian, Larry Elliott (15/2/13)
UK retail sales fall unexpectedly in January BBC News, (15/2/13)
Retail sales: What the economists say The Guardian, Phillip Inman (15/2/13)
Another dark day for the high street as John Lewis cuts jobs The Guardian, Sarah Butler (13/2/13)
Republic chains enters administration BBC News, (15/2/13)
High Street retailers: Who has been hit the hardest? BBC News, (13/2/13)
- Using Charts 2 and Chart 3 construct a short briefing paper comparing the fortunes of difficult components of consumption before and after 2008.
- What economic factors could explain the contrasting impact of the economic slowdown since 2008 on the components of consumption?
- Can economic factors alone explain the success of failure of businesses? Explain your answer drawing on real-world examples.
- What factors do you think are likely to be important for the growth in consumer spending in the months ahead?