A customer packing her bags at the checkout counter of K-Citymarket Ruoholahti in Helsinki on 13 March 2020. S-Bank has reported that grocery shops and supermarkets saw an increase in card payments as the public prepared for measures to slow down the coronavirus epidemic. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)


PRIVATE CONSUMPTION in Finland has changed dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic and measures introduced to combat it, reports S Bank.

S-Bank on Friday published an estimate of how the pandemic has shaken up consumption habits based on its anonymous analysis of payments made with the 2.3 million credit cards it has issued between 1 January and 19 April.

Payments in grocery shops, supermarkets and pharmacies peaked as consumers stocked up goods such as hand soap, toilet paper and groceries in anticipation of measures to combat the pandemic between 9 and 15 March. Card payments have since decreased, but their mean value has increased, according to the in-store bank.

“The number of payments in grocery shops was 12 per cent higher and in pharmacies up to 50 per cent higher than normal at the start of the crisis,” told Marketta Lundell, the head of cards at S-Bank.

“People did not horde alcohol, but its sales have increased steadily this entire time. The biggest spike in alcohol sales was witnessed over Easter, as it would be in normal circumstances. Last week, the sales returned to the levels of early March,” she added.

Altogether the number of card payments has decline by 29 per cent and the value of payments by 13 per cent since the beginning of January. The drop has been particularly dramatic in certain industries: the restaurant industry, for instance, has seen spending plummet by 80 per cent since the start of the year.

S-Bank on Friday, however, viewed that there is light at the end of the tunnel, as the trend of grocery and petrol sales is once again pointing up.

“The economic situation remains very challenging,” admitted Pekka Ylihurula, the managing director of S-Bank. “But the statistics on card payments show that life goes on. It is the duty of us banks to keep the finances of Finns in balance by offering repayment postponements and other concessions.”

The epidemic has somewhat surprisingly led to an up-tick in neither the number of contactless payments, nor online purchases, reported S-Bank.

“Finland’s 50-euro limit on contactless payments is the highest allowed in Europe. But it is still easily too low as people shop less frequently and buy more at once. The average value of contactless payments has increased by around two-and-a-half euros between January and April,” told Lundell.

“Many online retailers have offered discounts and shopping food online has also become more common, but the share of online payments of all payments has not risen during the coronavirus situation.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT