November spending trends: The return to in-store

CO-OP Payments trends report (spending data from November 1-30)

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CA (December 20, 2021) — The highly anticipated Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend brought mixed results to the retail sector, as year-over-year increases for in-store traffic was offset by a decline in online sales to dampen overall growth. The yearlong shift from debit to credit spending behaviors also continues, as rising consumer confidence encourages shoppers to borrow more to pay for goods and services.

Economic data for the month was mixed, as unemployment filings fell to the lowest level in more than 50 years, signaling a vibrant labor market only 18 months after the pandemic drove millions of workers to file for unemployment benefits. On the flip side, inflation rose at its fastest pace in 40 years in November, as the Consumer Price Index jumped 6.8% for the month.

Analysis of November CO-OP member credit union data saw month-over-month pickups in several key categories, including Amazon/Bookstores, Digital Goods, Retail, Computers and Sports & Recreation. These results are largely unsurprising, as the holiday shopping season hit its stride in November. Categories like Grocery, Travel and Home Improvement showed less consistency, picking up volume in credit while falling in debit spend.

Here are some of the key spending trends CO-OP’s SmartGrowth experts are watching closely this month:

#1: Mixed Results for Black Friday Shopping

Fewer people shopped over the Thanksgiving weekend this year, marking the second year in a row of decline. However, more consumers ventured back into stores than in 2020, and overall retail sales were up by 14% for the weekend over the same period in 2020, and 5.8% over 2019Online shoppers fell by 15 million for the long weekend versus 2020.

CO-OP credit union data showed modest month-over-month increases of 10% in the Retail category in credit count and 4% in debit count for the month of November, a disappointing showing for what, in years past, has been the kickoff to holiday spend.

These mixed results were a product of various factors, including an early start to the holiday shopping season, rising concerns with the new omicron variant, as well as continued supply chain shortages that have hit online merchants such as Amazon particularly hard.

“Seeing 10% up in Retail spend in November month-over-month is not at the same level of growth we have seen in past years,” said Beth Phillips, Director of Strategic Portfolio Growth for CO-OP.  “However, our credit unions need to look at Q3 holistically as consumers began their holiday spend earlier this year due to supply-chain concerns and retailers promoting sales well in advance of Black Friday.”

#2: Spending on Dining & Entertainment Drops as Consumers Celebrate at Home

The Dining & Entertainment merchant category dropped across both credit and debit in November, as consumers chose to celebrate at home over the Thanksgiving holiday. This trend is reflected in strong growth in the Grocery category in recent months, with national chains like Kroger reporting strong sales growth, despite ongoing supply chain shortages that are making certain staples scarce in-store.

Year-over-year, however, most Dining & Entertainment sub-categories have posted impressive increases, with theatrical productions (excluding movies) up by 326%, tourist attractions and exhibits up 76%, dining out gaining 34%, drinking and billiard/pool establishments up a combined 148%, and motion pictures showing a whopping 724% year over year increase.

“We anticipate groceries spend will continue to be elevated,” said John Patton, Senior Payments Advisor for CO-OP. “For credit unions, it’s a good time to activate your spend and get campaigns for both debit and credit within the Groceries merchant category.”

#3: Continued Shift from Debit to Credit 

While overall spending trends have plateaued post-summer as the rise in the Delta variant dampened the initial renewed enthusiasm for travel, dining out and attending in-person events, consumers have continued to shift their spending habits away from debit and toward credit.

“2021 was a story of recovery,” said Phillips. “Once the vaccine became available early in the year, many people settled into their ‘new normal’ spending habits. Those who remained comfortable socially distancing, socially distanced, while others who were more comfortable returning to in-person events, began doing so.”

This year-long trend is evidenced by CO-OP’s credit union payment spend data, which shows a number of merchant categories up significantly on credit year-over-year: theatrical productions (up 326%), tourist attractions and exhibits (up 76%), dining (up 34%), drinking places and billiard/pool establishments (up a combined 149%), and motion pictures (up 724%).

“The data is telling us that as the year wore on, more consumers have decided to get back to going out and spending more,” said Phillips.

What Credit Unions Should Do Now

As the holiday season winds down in December, credit unions should provide members with ready access to their preferred forms of payment, whether shopping in-store or online.

The CO-OP SmartGrowth Consulting Team also believes it’s a great time to focus on “spend and get” campaigns to incent members to use their card within popular and growing merchant categories like Groceries, Digital Goods and Retail. CO-OP recommends offering special promotions when members spend on select goods and services, to help keep a credit union’s payment methods top of wallet.

Month-Over-Month Category-Level Spending (Comparing November 2021 to October 2021)  Please note that the category spending below reflects month-over-month comparisons (rather than year-over-year), i.e., compares November 2021 with October 2021, rather than November 2021 and November 2020.

Credit Debit
Count Amount Interchange Count Amount Interchange
Category Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change
Amazon/Bookstores 8% 19% 17% 7% 17% 11%
Digital Goods 5% 12% 13% 10% 12% 9%
Dining & Entertainment -7% -4% -4% -8% -6% -7%
Education -8% -8% -7% -9% -10% -8%
Gas -7% -5% -5% -8% -6% -7%
Grocery -1% 2% 1% -4% -2% -3%
Lodging -10% -3% -3% -10% -12% -12%
Medical -7% -8% -8% -9% -9% -9%
Retail 10% 20% 18% 4% 12% 12%
Travel -5% 5% 5% -7% -2% -4%
Computers 9% 27% 23% 4% 19% 13%
Office -1% 6% 4% -2% 2% -1%
Campers & Camping -22% -21% -21% -24% -19% -18%
Home Improvement 2% 1% 0% -4% -3% -5%
Sports & Recreation 11% 15% 15% 0% 6% 7%

More information on the CO-OP SmartGrowth Consulting Team can be found here.

About CO-OP Financial Services

CO-OP Financial Services is a payments and financial technology company whose mission is ensuring the success of the credit union movement. CO-OP payments solutions, engagement services and strategic counsel help credit unions optimize member experiences to consistently provide seamless, personalized multi-channel offerings, while delivering secure, sophisticated fraud mitigation service. For more information, visit


Bill Prichard, APR
Director, Public Relations
CO-OP Financial Services
(909) 532-9416

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