Stability dominates as September spending trends stay on course

CO-OP payments trends Report (spending data from September 1-30)

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CA (October 20, 2021) — The U.S. continued its fitful post-pandemic recovery in September, as credit union member spending trends for the month reflected a largely “business as usual” trend. Meanwhile, issuers and merchants anticipate a busy fall highlighted by an early holiday shopping season.

On the economic front, the U.S. Labor Department released its September jobs data, showing that payrolls increased by just 194,000, well below consensus predictions of strong employment growth. Despite this, unemployment declined to 4.8%, beating expectations to achieve the lowest level of joblessness since before the pandemic.

According to CO-OP member credit union spending data, consumers spent more in the digital goods and educational merchant categories as students returned to campus and the classroom, while most other spending categories were relatively flat or down compared with August.

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

#1: Merchants Prepare for an Early Holiday Shopping Season

A combination of factors is contributing to what experts expect will be an early and active holiday shopping season. Rising inflation and fragile consumer confidence scores have retailers concerned, while lingering supply chain issues mean many of the most popular toys and gifts will be harder to find this year. Retailers are responding with special shopping events and discounts, attempting to capitalize on shoppers’ desire to stock up even before the Trick-or-Treaters arrive on their porches.

Target dusted off its “Deal Days” promotional period over the October 10-12 holiday weekend. Shoppers were able to take advantage of deep discounts online, on the Target app, and for the first time in all 1,900 stores. Amazon is jumping in with its own early “Black Friday” deals in October – more than a month before the traditional post-Thanksgiving kickoff. And Walmart is already beginning to hire seasonal workers, announcing that it will bring on 150,000 hourly staff heading into the holidays. Amazon and Target have also announced aggressive seasonal hiring plans.

“We expect higher than typical spending activity in October and November, “says John Patton, CO-OP Senior Payments Advisor. “Consumers will be getting their holiday shopping done early to beat the rush and purchase their desired gifts in light of the current supply shortages.”

#2: Lingering COVID Worries Depress Travel 

Meanwhile, a hot summer leisure travel season began cooling off in August, as the rise of the Delta variant dampened vacation travel and tourism. Business travel, which typically picks up the slack beginning in September, has yet to rebound as organizations maintain corporate travel restrictions and hold off on restarting in-person conferences and events.

On a positive note, as of mid-September, COVID cases began trending downward, and the impending FDA approval of the vaccine for children is giving parents hope for an easing of restrictions and a return to normalcy over the coming months.

#3: Resilient Consumers Continue to Spend

The silver lining in all of this is that despite lingering COVID concerns, rising inflation and supply chain hiccups, consumers are continuing to spend.

Boosted by rising income and savings rates, consumer spending on goods and services rose by 0.8% in August, following a 0.1% decrease in July, a trend that CO-OP is seeing in its credit union portfolio data.

“Stability continues even as we enter a holiday shopping season faced with uncertainty,” says Beth Phillips, CO-OP Director of Strategic Portfolio Growth. “Consumers have been willing to spend, and we haven’t seen the pullback of activity that we saw last year.”

People are also heading back to stadiums and concert venues again, reigniting the live events industry and demonstrating Americans’ remarkable resiliency and positive outlook in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Above all, despite the ups and downs of 2021, continued economic growth bodes well for a strong recovery in 2022, assuming the recent trends and strides in combatting the virus continue.

What Credit Unions Should Do Now

With an early holiday season kicking into high gear in October, now is the time to ensure members have registered their credit union cards with their favorite wallet apps and online merchants. No matter whether they prefer to shop online or in-store, credit unions should work to see that their credit or debit card is positioned at the top of their members’ wallets.

CO-OP Digital Card Issuance allows members to access their digital credit and debit credentials instantly, providing a seamless, touchless and secure process through the credit union’s mobile app. And with CO-OP Digital Wallets, credit unions can remain top of wallet by allowing members to use their debit and credit cards with most popular wallet, apps including Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Fitbit Pay and Garmin Pay.

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

Credit Debit
Count Amount Interchange Count Amount Interchange
Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change
Amazon/ Bookstores -3% -6% -7% -5% -9% -8%
Digital Goods 0% +3% +5% 0% +2% +1%
Dining/ Entertainment -4% -7% -6% -5% -8% -7%
Education +7% -19% -13% +13% -16% -9%
Gas -3% -3% -2% -6% -6% -6%
Grocery -3% -4% -2% -6% -7% -5%
Lodging -15% -15% -14% -19% -20% -20%
Medical 0% +1% +1% -1% -2% -2%
Retail -3% -4% -3% -6% -7% -6%
Travel -2% -4% -3% -4% -9% -8%
Computers -2% -2% -4% -5% -7% -5%
Office -5% -8% -9% -6% -9% -7%
Campers & Camping -6% -3% -3% -14% -22% -21%
Home Improvement -3% 0% +1% -6% -3% -3%
Sports & Recreation -19% -13% -12% -20% -17% -16%

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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