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“Revenge Shopping” Drives Spending on Clothes, Entertainment and Travel

Though dining out is back to pre-pandemic levels, spending dips slightly in April.

Tally

May 14, 2021

  • Americans buying more clothes, fewer electronics:

    Clothing purchases rose 6.2% month-over-month in April, while electronic purchases fell 13.4% month-over-month. In total, retail purchases made up 21.6% of total credit card spending. 

 

  • Entertainment making a slow comeback:

    As more movie theaters and theme parks reopen, spending on recreation and entertainment made up 5.0% of all credit card purchases in April. 

 

  • Travel spending inching closer to pre-pandemic levels:

    Credit card spending on travel-related expenses made up 8.7% of all purchases in April.

 

  • Spending on dining out back to pre-pandemic levels:

    Restaurant spending hit a new high, making up 17.0% of all credit card spending.

The Tally Credit Card Spending Index tracks spending habits of Americans carrying credit card debt. It ranks the share of dollars spent using credit cards each month at retailers and merchants in several categories, such as entertainment, groceries, personal care and fitness, shopping, restaurants and travel.

Making Up for Lost Time, Americans Refresh Wardrobe to Go Out 

After a year of having nowhere to go, no one to see, and no events to attend, people are ready to “avenge” what they had lost. Called “Revenge Shopping,” Americans are now shopping en masse to refresh their wardrobes in anticipation of upcoming vacations and social gatherings. 

As a spending category, retail purchases made up the largest share of credit card purchases in April (21.6%). However, not all retail purchases are made equally. There was a notable surge in clothing purchases. Spending on clothing-specific retailers made up 7.1% of all credit card transactions in April, rose 6.2% month-over-month from March and 37.0% quarter-over-quarter from January. This is the highest share of spend for this category since the holiday shopping season.

After last year’s pandemic-driven buying of tech gear while stuck at home, the share of electronics purchases continued to shrink. Purchases at retailers such as Best Buy, GameStop and Apple made up 11.4% of all credit card purchases in April, a 13.4% month-over-month decrease from March and 9.9% quarter-over-quarter decrease from January. This decline in spending was the main driver for the 6.4% month-over-month drop in spend in April for the retail category as a whole. 

More Entertainment Options Means More Spending 

Entertainment spending continues to increase as more businesses are allowed to reopen. In April, spending in this category made up 5.0% of all credit card purchases. This coincides with  AMC reopening most of its U.S. movie theater locations at the end of March, and Disneyland in California reopening in early April. Looking at changes in spend, credit card purchases in this category rose 2.2% month-over-month from March and 17.3% quarter-over-quarter from January.

Though many entertainment and recreation-related businesses can only operate at a limited capacity, spending will likely continue to rise this year. In pre-pandemic times, entertainment purchases made up more than 5% of all credit card spending within a month. During most of the pandemic, spending hovered between 3% and 4%.

Travel Bookings Not Slowing Down 

Travel spending is showing no signs of stopping as we head towards summer vacation. Americans have become increasingly bullish about flying and staying in hotels as more people get the Covid-19 vaccine. In April, credit card spending on travel-related expenses rose 1.3% month-over-month, continuing a four-month streak in monthly gains.

Compared to a year ago, when travel hit its lowest point during the start of the pandemic, spending is up 319.4% from April 2020. Currently, credit card purchases from airlines, hotels and vacation vendors made up 8.7% of total credit card purchases in April. This is the highest the share of travel spending has been since February 2020 when spending made up 10.1% of total credit card purchases. During the height of the pandemic, the share of travel-related credit card spending hovered between 2% and 6% between April 2020 and December 2020.

Meanwhile, commute-related spending is largely back to its pre-pandemic levels. As a share of spend, spending on gas, car maintenance and public transportation made up 8.0% of total credit card purchases in April. Before the pandemic, the share of spend on this category generally hoovered between 8% and 9%.

Though some company workforces are still working remotely, those that do return to work are likely relying more on personal cars than public transportation. The latest report on household credit and debt found a notable increase in auto loans in early 2021. 

Dining Out (Not Just Takeout) Is Back to Pre-Pandemic Norms

Restaurant spending made up 17.0% of total credit card spending in April, but fell 8.3% month-over-month from March. Though still back to pre-pandemic levels, spending may have slightly shifted as more people see travel and entertainment options open up. Before the pandemic, restaurant-related spending on dining out, takeout and delivery was typically above 15.5% each month. The last time restaurant spending passed this threshold was between August 2020 and October 2020. 

The dip in April was the biggest decline since November 2020 when spending fell 15.1% month-over-month. Throughout 2021, spending on restaurants had been on the rise each month, increasing 7.0% in January, 2.3% in February and 32.3% in March.

 

Methodology 

The Tally Credit Card Spending Index ranks the share of purchases made each month in several categories: entertainment, groceries, home improvement, personal care and fitness, pets, restaurants, shopping (includes electronics and clothing), travel, transportation and other. The “other” category includes unspecified transactions and categories that are too small to be ranked separately.

Each monthly index is based on a statistically significant sampling of approximately 200,000 anonymized credit card transactions in a given month made by Tally members, many of whom carry credit card debt. The index has been tracking credit card transactions since January 2019. All historical transaction data has been normalized to the most current month.

Share of the spend measures the proportion of total dollars spent in each category relative to total credit card expenses within a month. Percentage changes are calculated using the total dollar amount spent in each category on a month-over-month, quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year basis.