A chilly April sparked a surge in spending on the internet as consumers chose to buy online rather than visit the high street, new figures suggest.

Visa’s Consumer Spending Index for April shows that online spending grew at the fastest rate for 16 months and was up 8.4% on last year. In comparison, ‘face-to-face’ spending hardly rose at all, and was up 0.2%.

There was a general rise in consumer spending, up 2.5% on last year, driven by ‘experience’ spending like holidays and eating out, which was also behind the rise in online spending.

Eating out, booking holidays and discovering new experiences are all driving spending growth

Kevin Jenkins, UK & Ireland managing director, Visa Europe
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Recreation and culture spending was up 7.9% year-on-year, while spending in hotels, restaurants and bars rose by 6.6%.

In contrast, spending on clothing and footwear fell by 2.8% year-on-year – its biggest fall in year-on-year spending since September 2014, with poor weather likely to have affected sales of spring and summer clothing ranges.

Kevin Jenkins, UK & Ireland managing director at Visa Europe, said: “Growth in consumables remains evident, but consumer spending is increasingly focused on the experience economy.

“Eating out, booking holidays and discovering new experiences are all driving spending growth at a time when the lower cost of living is creating higher disposable incomes.

“In a month of mostly growth, the only sector to disappoint was clothing and footwear, again highlighting this shift.”

Bad weather also affected sales of clothing and footwear. Image by Jason Batterham/Shutterstock.com

He said the strong performance for online sellers suggested that much of the ‘experience economy’ was being driven by people pre-booking activities online.

"While online prospered, face-to-face spending was relatively flat, highlighting the current discussion about the future shape of the high street as well,” he added.

“Eyes will now be on May, with a sunny start to the month providing promise for the high street but also a further fillip for restaurants and hotels looking to capitalise on our desire for experiences.”

Compiled by financial information company Markit, the index reflects overall consumer spending, not just that on cards.

Annabel Fiddes, economist at Markit, said: “The wintry weather in April did mean that the high street lost out overall, with spending broadly flat from the previous year.

“However, this led to a steep increase in online spend, where growth hit a 16-month high on an annual basis.

“The prolonged spell of poorer weather also reduced sales at clothing and footwear retailers for the second month in a row, as people put off purchasing their spring/summer ranges.

“Nonetheless, consumers registered higher expenditure across all other areas of spend, including on day trips, meals out and home furnishings.”

But she said weaker global economic conditions and an increasingly uncertain UK economic outlook could slow the growth in spending as Britain heads into summer.