Business news

Consumer Sentiment is flat as NI shoppers plan to cut back for the festive season

Posted By:
PricewaterhouseCoopers Llp (PwC)

19th Oct 2023

  • PwC Consumer Sentiment is flat at -13% in the three months since June 2023
  • Largest gap on record between the most and least affluent
  • 33% of Northern Ireland consumers had already started shopping for the festive season by mid September
  • 7% of adults in NI say they expect to spend more on Christmas shopping, with 36% saying they’ll spend less, primarily due to cost-of-living pressures

PwC’s latest consumer survey shows that consumer sentiment in September 2023 has plateaued at -13% in line with June 2023 findings. This latest sentiment reading remains the highest point for 18 months and is an improvement of over 30 points since the low of -44 in September 2022, which was the worst score recorded since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.

The widest sentiment gap on record (52 ppts) now exists between the most and least affluent socioeconomic groups since the survey began. Sentiment is still improving amongst over 55s and the most affluent, but it is falling in every other demographic group, particularly sharply among under 25s and the least affluent.

Almost identical to the last consumer sentiment survey, the less affluent and 35-54 year olds remain under the greatest financial pressure, while retirees are the group reporting the most resilient household finances. For example, 44% of over 65s say they have money left at the end of the month for luxuries or to save, compared with 23% of 35-44 year olds.

Overall, just under a third of adults report that their household finances are ‘healthy’, a slight improvement on this time last year. At the other end of the scale, fewer than one in ten say they are either struggling to make ends meet or have missed bills or loan repayments. This number rises to 15% of 45-54 year olds, and to just under a quarter of the least affluent socioeconomic group.

With financial considerations in mind, consumers in Northern Ireland are more likely to be shopping earlier for Christmas than consumers in other parts of the UK, and more likely to spend less this festive season. In Northern Ireland, 33% had started their Christmas shopping by mid-September, with 54% saying that they either have started their shopping or are planning to shop earlier this year.

One important reason for shopping earlier is to help consumers budget and space out their Christmas spending. One in three cite “keeping Christmas special” as a reason to defend or increase their festive spending this year.

However, only 7% of adults in Northern Ireland say they expect to spend more on shopping and celebrations this Christmas, with 36% saying they expect to spend less this year. The overwhelming reason being due to the rising cost of living. Across the UK, just under 80% of those who plan to spend less say it’s because of rising food and energy costs, compared with only 23% citing mortgage or rent payments.

Cara Haffey, partner and Private Business leader for PwC Northern Ireland, comments:

“Consumer Sentiment has much improved since this time last year, but consumers are still feeling ongoing cost-of-living pressures. As we head into the Christmas period, shoppers in Northern Ireland are still keen to celebrate with their loved ones, but will be taking steps to spend smartly, including starting earlier and being cautious with their budgets. However, last year shoppers did spend more than expected, so with falling headline inflation, there may yet be a last minute spending uptick. Retailers here will need to consider how they can attract consumers and offer them value while keeping Christmas special.”