Consumer Spending Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Assessment of Great Britain
40 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2020 Last revised: 22 Aug 2021
Date Written: July 1, 2020
Since the first death in China in early January 2020, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread across the globe and dominated the news headlines leading to fundamental changes in the health, social and political landscape, and an unprecedented negative impact on the current and future prospects of households, businesses and the macro-economy. In this paper, we examine consumer spending responses to the onset and spread of COVID-19, and subsequent government imposed lockdown in Great Britain, GB (England, Scotland, Wales). Our sample period spans January 1st 2020 to 18th June 2020. This allows us to observe consumer spending behavior from the initial incubation phase of the crisis. We partition the sample period into incubation (1st-17th January), outbreak (January 18th-February 21st), fever (February 22nd-March 22nd), lockdown (March 23rd–May 10th 2020) and stay alert (May 11th- June 18th) phases. Using a high frequency transaction level proprietary dataset comprising 101,059 consumers and 23 million transactions made available by a financial technology company, we find that discretionary spending declines during the fever period as the government imposed lockdown becomes imminent, and continues to decline throughout the lockdown period. Shortly after the May 10th ‘stay alert’ announcement by Prime Minister Johnson, a short-term decline in spending across all nations occurs. However, a week later, spending is at the same level as that observed prior to the announcement. There is a strong increase in groceries spending consistent with panic buying and stockpiling behaviour in the two weeks following the World Health Organisation (WHO) announcement describing COVID-19 as a pandemic. Variations in the level and composition of consumer spending across nations and regions (particularly during the early stages of the outbreak period), and by age, gender and income level are also observed. Our results are of particular relevance to government agencies tasked with the design, execution and monitoring economic impacts arising from the spread of the virus and the public health measures imposed to mitigate the health costs of the crisis.
Keywords: Consumption, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Great Britain, Household Finance, Households, Pandemic
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