Much Ado About Nothing? Daily consumption patterns of 2019 and 2023 in Switzerland

22. May 2023 (in Deutsch / en Francais)

Two years of the pandemic have left their footprint in our work life. Flexible working hours, work from home, and cyber conferencing are the post-pandemic buzzwords. But did they also leave their mark on daily consumption patterns?

With data derived from Monitoring Consumption Switzerland (MCS), we investigate whether the pattern of consumption on Food and Beveridge Services per weekday has changed over the past three years. We analyze daily data of the Food and Beveridge Services merchant category because that category might reveal new work patterns most strongly.[1]

We compare the average daily consumption patterns between 2019 and 2023. There are two issues that may affect the analysis. Firstly, there is an ongoing transition from cash to card payments, which has also been observed in previous studies of MCS. Secondly, inflation has become relevant in recent years. Both issues would bias an analysis based on absolute expenses or simple percentage changes between 2019 and 2023. To address the issues, we analyze the daily consumption shares, relative to the overall expenses in that week in the respective expenditure category (MCC), and then average the daily shares for the first quarter of 2019 and 2023.

In order to examine the impact of changes in consumption patterns, we divide agglomerations into three types to analyze how urban or rural environments may have been affected: city centers, multi-orientated areas (denoted as Agglomeration: Other in Figure 2), and rural areas (denoted as Other Municipalities in Figure 3).  Figures 1 to 3 show the comparisons of consumption per weekday in the first quarter of 2019 (pre-pandemic period) with the first quarter of 2023 (post-pandemic period).

Figure 1 illustrates the daily average consumption shares for city centers made at the point of sale (POS). The sum of the shares across weekdays depicted in Figure 1 is the share of consumption in city centers for Food and Beverage Services relative to the total consumption in this expenditure category across all agglomeration types (i.e., the shares across the agglomeration types in Figures 1 to 3 add up to 1).

Figure 1 shows that the weekly consumption pattern exhibits a steady increase from Monday to Saturday. On Sundays, the share drops strongly to roughly the same level as on Mondays. Not surprisingly, city centers have the highest consumption share among the different agglomeration types: over the entire week, they account for 55.1% of all expenses on Food and Beverage Services in 2023. In 2019, the share was only slightly lower at 54.8%. Thus, we do not find a marked shift of consumption away from or to city centers. Shifts in the daily variation of the shares are small too, with two exceptions. On Mondays the consumption share dropped from 5.6% to 5.2%, and on Saturdays it increased from 9.9% to 10.8%. Otherwise, the shares have remained almost the same.

Figure 1. Notes: Average daily consumption shares in Food and Beveridge Services in city centers relative to all expenses in Food and Beveridge Services in Switzerland.

In Figures 2 and 3, we show the expenditure shares for multi-orientated urbanized centers (Agglomeration: Other), i.e., mainly commuting zones, and more rural areas (Other Municipalities). The commuting zones accounted for 28.1% of weekly consumption expenditures for Food and Beverage Services in 2019 and 26.4% in 2023. The more rural areas accounted for 17.1.% in 2019 and 18.5% in 2023. Thus, there appears to be a small shift of consumption expenditures from commuting zones towards more rural areas.

Inspecting the daily consumption patterns reveals that the changes are evenly distributed over the weekdays. Nearly all weekdays in multi-orientated urbanized areas have a lower expenditure share, most notably on Mondays and Fridays. Instead, the share increased on each weekday in more rural areas in 2023. Hence, the data suggest a shift away from multi-orientated urbanized centers to rural areas.

What may have caused these changes? A part of the population may spend more time in more rural areas in 2023 relative to 2019 and thus also consume there. It is not clear, however, why such a trend would have affected commuting areas more than city centers. Moreover, the observed changes are very small. Overall, the data do not reveal strong changes in consumption patterns that may have been associated with new post-pandemic work-life patterns. The consequences of post-pandemic work-life patterns for consumption expenditure thus remain a thorny topic requiring further research. To quote Shakespeare again: “O, how full of briers is this working-day world!”

Figure 2. Notes: Average daily consumption shares in the Food and Beveridge Services in multi-orientated urbanized areas relative to all expenses in Food and Beveridge Services in Switzerland.

Figure 3. Notes: Average daily consumption shares in the Food and Beveridge Services in rural areas relative to all expenses in Food and Beveridge Services in Switzerland.

[1] Of course, a more detailed analysis could inspect intraday data by focusing on specific commuting times in the morning and afternoon. Because the data are aggregated for each day, we cannot perform such an analysis.