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Shortages Likely Holding Back Holiday Shopping

Expect more holiday travel in 2022, but all other credit card spending is sluggish despite pressure to shop early for the holidays.


November 16, 2021

  • Retail spending slows down. Despite urgent warnings to start holiday shopping sooner this year, credit card spending on retail (electronics, clothing and other) declined 0.6% month-over-month in October. In fact, spending was down 9.5% from a year ago. This was likely the result of inventory shortages and expected shipping delays.  

  • Expect more holiday travel in late 2021 and into 2022. Credit card spending on travel rose 3.7% month-over-month in October, a slight increase likely driven by those planning their holiday travels. Though far from pre-pandemic holiday travel patterns, travel spending was up 39.7% from a year ago.

  • Restaurant spending cools. Restaurant spending fell 3.3% month-over-month in October despite total credit card spend surpassing pre-pandemic levels. With rising food costs and holidays near, many Americans may be rethinking their restaurant and take out budgets.

The Tally Credit Card Spending Index has been tracking the spending habits of Americans carrying credit card debt since January 2019. It ranks the share of dollars spent using credit cards each month at retailers and merchants in categories, including entertainment, groceries, personal care and fitness, shopping, restaurants and travel.

Retail spending waned in October despite messaging  from retailers to start holiday shopping early

Headlines pointing to shortages, and many Americans already experiencing pandemic-related shipping delays and price inflation throughout the year, likely drove many to feel pressured to shop for the holidays earlier than usual. But the data indicates consumers did not rush to spend after all. In fact, credit card spending on shopping saw a decline of 0.6% month-over-month in October and a decline of 9.5% year-over-year. Spending on general retail rose 4.4% month-over-month; however, electronic and clothing purchases remained flat or down respectively.

There was a slight increase in electronics-related purchases of 0.7% month-over-month. This subcategory of retail likely saw a small uptick in electronics spending for those who may have had a late start to ordering a new iPhone 13 post-Apple event last month. 

The biggest decline in this category was on clothing purchases. Spending fell 6.2% month-over-month and 7.4% quarter-over-quarter from July. A widespread shortage of inventory likely held back holiday shopping in this category. As a share of spend, this subcategory made up 5.9% of all credit card purchases in October. Overall, spending on clothing is still lower than pre-pandemic levels, where spending was usually above 8%. 

Amid ongoing supply chain challenges and inflation hitting its highest point in more than 30 years, retail spending is likely to continue to decrease in the near term as pandemic-specific issues continue to drive prices up.

In October, credit card purchases on airlines, hotels and vacation vendors grew by 3.7% month-over-month. While the summer months were expected to bring a rebound in travel, concerns on rising COVID-19 cases and the Delta variant cooled spending in this category. Nationwide worker shortages may also have been a deterrent for those concerned about pricing, scheduling, cancellations and unexpected complications as a result of limited staffing.

Though still far from pre-pandemic holiday travel patterns, travel spending was up 39.7% from a year ago. This increase in bookings in October was likely driven by the anticipation of vaccines for five to 11-year-olds in November. This trend will likely hold and increase as more children receive their vaccines.

Despite a small gain, spending in this category prior to the pandemic typically ranged from 10 to 12%. Travel-related spending made up 8.6% of all October credit purchases versus 10.6% of all credit purchases in October 2019. Uncertainty will remain the new normal for travel with ever-changing travel restrictions and guidelines, likely pushing travel plans, especially for international trips, further out next year.

While forgoing air travel for road trips may appear to be the next best thing, given the prevalence of traveling by car during peak pandemic times, high fuel costs and vehicle prices are likely driving a 3.2% month-over-month and 4.3% quarter-over-quarter dip in transportation-related expenses. Inflation effects are likely to hold steady for the time being and may inspire Americans to cut back on non-essential commutes and hold on big-ticket vehicle purchases.

Restaurant spending slows 

Demand for dining out, take-out, and food delivery continued to exceed pre-pandemic levels in October, making up 17.8% of total credit card spending and surpassing the share of spend in all of 2019. Despite this demand, spending in this category fell 3.3% month-over-month, potentially driven by a small uptick in grocery-related purchases which grew 0.7% month-over-month.

With the rising cost of food, some businesses may have had to adjust their prices and pass those increases on to their menus in popular takeout and delivery apps like DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats. Higher prices and surcharges are likely driving many consumers to rethink their restaurant spending. Growth in this category may remain stagnant or grow slightly as the holidays draw near and more Americans host gatherings with home-cooked meals.


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.