With UK consumers increasingly going online to do their Christmas shopping they are also spending earlier, shifting from last-minute December buying to November, according to the Payments Council.
The move from cash and cheques to plastic, particularly debit cards, continued in the fourth quarter of 2010. In Q4 Brits spent £73.9 billion on their debit cards, up 9.4% on the same quarter in 2009. All plastic spending, including credit and charge card purchases, was £105.5 billion, up 7.1% on Q4 2009.
In contrast, cash machine withdrawals for the quarter were down 1.6% to £47.9 billion and the value of interbank cheques cleared fell 12.6% to £175 billion.
This move to cards and associated increase in online shopping has altered the UK's Christmas spending habits, says the Payments Council. The total amount spent with retailers in November was £11.2 billion, 84% of the December total of £13.3 billion.
In 2009, November was just 80% of the December total and in 2008, it was just over two thirds, although the Council concedes that the shock of the Lehmans collapse and the start of the recession in the UK would have contributed to this.
Sandra Quinn, director, communications, Payments Council, says: "The Internet has really changed the way we shop at Christmas, with many of us choosing to shop on line to get the best deals and to avoid the shops at the busiest time of year, but you need to start early. That's why there is a distinct shift in spending towards November. This has only been possible with the vast expansion of card usage in the UK."