What has Llandudno got that Central London hasn't? Increasing business, according to our latest data on card payments.
The heart of our capital city simply hasn't got going since the lockdown began to ease. It actually registered zero card transactions immediately after lockdown restrictions were lifted on 19 July 2021. That's not quite as drastic as it sounds, because the data only counts sales worth £20 or more. Nevertheless, it's a clear indication that people with jobs in Central London continued to be either out of work, furloughed or working from home, with serious consequences for restaurants, pubs and shops.
The fact that central London workers have been staying home is confirmed by the 11% increase in transactions for the southeast of England as a whole, with Bromley, Kingston upon Thames and Guildford performing strongly.
Meanwhile, staycations are booming and the North Wales resort of Llandudno has benefited more than anywhere else, with a 46% uptick in transactions compared to the same period in 2019. Blackpool and Bournemouth also show encouraging growth. However, the "holidays at home" dividend seems limited to places that are easy to travel to. Locations such as Torquay, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man, further away from the main population centres, continued to struggle.
The surge in sales for Llandudno is part of a wider trend across the principality, with data for transactions over £20 showing a much higher increase in Wales as a whole compared to other UK regions. In fact, Wales is the only area in which the rise is over 5% compared to 2019.
In contrast, Greater London is the only region or nation to show a fall in transactions, perhaps dragged down by the astonishing lack of business activity in central London.
Changes in transaction data are minimal across all the other regions, with a relatively even spread of small but encouraging increases in activity, strongest of all in the North East.
Pets and the sectors that service them and their owners have been the big story during the pandemic lockdown. Comparing 2021 with 2019, card transactions around veterinary services and pet supplies have stayed strong, rising by 47% and 19% respectively since restrictions began to lift.
This confirms what a visit to most local parks suggests: many people have responded to spending more time at home by acquiring a puppy. Cats are less visible but have also increased in numbers. Overall, there has been an unprecedented 59% increase in UK pet ownership across 2020 and 2021.
Homeowners were seeing much more of their dwellings during lockdown, and often seeing room for improvement, which explains the big boost to spending with tradespeople and the construction industry. The need to cheer up an overfamiliar home may also help to account for the increased spending with florists.
It's no surprise that the other sector that has been flourishing during the transition from full lockdown has been technology and telecoms, with a 32% upswing during July. We have all been watching and using our in-home screens far more, whether for Zoom calls or bingeing on box sets.
Increased time spent at home hasn't been good news for every sector, however. Our data shows that security, insurance, and museums have suffered big drops in transactions. And we can only hope that marketing, recruitment, and haulage will recover from their dramatic drops in activity. Businesses should regain confidence after returning to more normal ways of working.
‘Stay at home’ rules on travel were lifted in England on the 28th of March, and outdoor gatherings in gardens became legal once again. The impact on businesses in the South East and Greater London was positive, with companies in Slough reporting only a 5 percent decline in card payments compared to 2019. Bromley, Watford, Guildford, and Taunton in the South West all catalogued a 5-10 percent deficit, a minor loss when compared to companies operating in Scotland.
Businesses north of the border took the biggest hit on card transactions during April due to nationwide restrictions remaining in place until the 26th. Therefore, with retail premises, libraries, galleries and tourist accommodation all out of action, the most populated areas in Scotland’s central belt performed worse than any other UK region. For instance, Galashiels had around 35 percent fewer card transactions than in 2019, while Inverness, Paisley, and Kilmarnock shared similar losses. In addition, severe local lockdowns during Q1 and Q2 also meant that Glasgow posted a 20 percent loss in terminal use.
As previously mentioned, Central London saw the most substantial drop in terminal transactions during May (around a 25 percent deficit) compared to 2019. But another poor performer was Bath, a city that would usually welcome one million overnight tourists and 3.8 million day visitors. A possible explanation for the region’s 17.71 percent decrease in highstreet trade is that the UK weather was still wet and cold during the week commencing 17th of May. Likewise, the university city’s world-famous spas and white-washed buildings rely heavily on tourism. The Berkshire town of Slough also witnessed 15.74% fewer card transactions than in 2019, undoubtedly due to the heavy economic reliance on office workers positioned close to London.
On the 17th of May, indoor venues and hospitality businesses opened in England, along with limited capacity sporting events. These additional freedoms had a dramatic economic effect on Yorkshire and the North West, particularly the former, which recorded nearly 5 percent more merchant card transactions than in May 2019. Blackpool saw the most significant rise in highstreet footfall, earning around 18 percent more terminal payments than during pre-pandemic trading.
We can see that Wales followed suit once the country moved to Alert Level 2 and entertainment venues, such as museums, were reopened. The country’s most central town, Llandrindod Wells, was the top performer in our studies, showing a 15.56 percent uplift in merchant transactions when compared to 2019. Other prosperous regions include Darlington, Telford, Cambridge, and Bournemouth.
Looking specifically at merchant transactions in Greater London, there’s a sizeable disparity between towns situated in and out of the City. For instance, Bromley saw nearly a 20 percent rise in card payments compared to 2019, as did Ilford (16.59%) and Kingston Upon Thames (15.48%). In contrast, Central London suffered the most significant decline in transactions, recording a 24.32% deficit from pre-pandemic trading.
These startling figures illustrate why the government tried to encourage people to go back to offices in autumn 2020, as hospitality and retail commerce dried up due to fewer functioning workspaces. However, the good news is that when we remove central postcodes from our data, transactions look a lot healthier in Greater London, with areas like Enfield, Dartford, and Harrow all recording positive yields.
Independent businesses posting reduced merchant transactions in May mirror many of the national industries previously touched upon. For instance, independent travel companies saw around a 10 percent decline in card transactions, saved further only for an upswing in staycation bookings. Similarly, charities and non-profit organisations experienced close to an 11 percent downturn, as was predicted in our Small Business Challenges report.
The education sector, for obvious reasons, lost nearly a quarter (23.45%) of all card transactions from highs of 56.64% in 2019. Likewise, museums suffered a 16 percent downturn due to neglect during lockdowns. On a more positive note, independent bookstores received only 4.5 percent fewer card payments than in 2019, suggesting that some consumers favour the highstreet over online retailers.