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Since Barclaycard appeared on the high street 50 years ago, the world of shopping has changed beyond recognition. It’s not a coincidence – Barclaycard has been at the heart of that change.

Barclaycard has introduced many firsts in its 50 years. What’s easy to overlook is the collective impact of these firsts on society. Barclaycard has changed how people shop, in three ways: by changing the way people pay, helping businesses do business, and giving people greater control over their money. How fundamental has Barclaycard’s contribution to this new world been? Let’s take a look.

We all deserve some credit

It all started with the first UK credit card. A card that allowed its holder to pay immediately and spread the cost – the simplicity of cash combined with the pay-later flexibility of credit. The freedom it gave is hard to imagine now, but back then it was a revolution. It was another six years before competition arrived, in the form of the Access credit card introduced by a consortium of UK and Irish banks. Everything had changed. Well, almost everything.

It’s hard to believe now, but in 1966 many women relied on men to make card purchases, or so the financial thinking went in many businesses and households. In 1973, Barclaycard made its first nationwide push to encourage women to sign up for their own credit card – a move that shifted the balance of power in domestic spending and also created new marketing opportunities for businesses everywhere.

And talking of new opportunities, the 1990s brought the phenomenon of shopping on the web. Yes, there was a time before online. Cards made paying for virtual goods possible, and retailers grasped the opportunity. In 1995, Amazon.com launched, and so did Barclays Square, one of the first e-commerce sites, bringing together lots of retailers in one place to make online shopping that little bit more straightforward.

This broader thinking about the shopping experience has set Barclaycard apart over the decades. The story started with a card, but the biggest development in recent years has been the move to new ways of paying. Barclaycard has introduced Chip and PIN, pioneered the roll-out of contactless cards, and is now pushing the boundaries in the new world of wearable and mobile payment capabilities. Wearing tech isn’t just fashionable; today, it’s actually fashion. Smart watches, fitness trackers and even contactless clothes are changing our relationship with technology. Paying with your phone is becoming the new normal, with Apple Pay and Barclaycard’s Contactless Mobile app for Android, expanding the market. And why take cash to a festival if you can wear a bPay band instead?

The other side of paying

Since day one, Barclaycard has been on both sides of equation. A staggering 30,000 retailers were ready to accept Barclaycards on launch day, and readers of the Daily Mail were treated to one of the longest newspaper ads ever as each of these pioneering retailers got a name check. In time, Barclaycard set up a department to look after this side of the business, and Global Payment Acceptance (GPA) was born.

The changing face of the payment terminal is the visible part of Barclaycard’s support for businesses. It started with the original off-line ’zip-zap’ machines (so-called because of the sound they made as the card details were imprinted on paper vouchers). Soon, online card and Chip and PIN readers took their place, and now contactless terminals and the mobile payment-taker known as Barclaycard Anywhere lead the way.

But there is more to the business side of things. An early step was Company Barclaycard, launched in 1977 and providing businesses with an easy way to manage and track employee spending. And Barclaycard’s point-of-sale finance option, delivered through Barclays Partner Finance, has helped thousands of Barclaycard’s business clients and their customers by making big retail, motor and leisure purchases easier to afford.

If you’ve travelled on public transport in London recently it may well have been a ‘touch-and-go’ experience. And that has nothing to do with whether you got to your destination on time. We’re talking about contactless travel on the tube, rail and buses. A simple alternative to Transport for London’s (TfL) Oyster card, this collaboration with Barclaycard has made life that bit easier for commuters, tourists and TfL.

Of course, Barclaycard’s contribution to the changing face of business hasn’t been limited to the UK. For more than ten years, Barclaycard US (BCUS) has been helping businesses do business. As well as its award-winning branded card business, BCUS provides customer card services to companies across the US through a series of partnerships, known as co-brands. NFL, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue are just some of the brands that benefit from their expertise.

Money matters

There’s much more to managing money than spreading the cost of a big purchase. Keeping track of spending used to mean paper statements and pocketbooks, but online account management has put all that information at customers’ fingertips. The service has evolved from early trials into today’s mybarclaycard.

The flexibility to move balances to a new card was an innovation when Barclaycard offered balance transfers for the first time in 1992. Now it’s an expectation, and Barclaycard regularly appears in best buy tables. And let’s not forget access to credit scores in the US and UK, offering a window on credit data too.

Looking abroad again, Barclaycard set up shop in Germany in 1991, despite Germans not being big fans of credit cards. Barclaycard’s share of the credit card market there is now around 30%, with eight own-brand cards. But what makes Barclaycard Germany unique is its deposit and loans business – helping Germans manage their money in a way that works for that market.

But what’s the connection between money management and shopping? The answer is loyalty and rewards. Whether it’s retail therapy, travel, leisure, entertainment or paying bills, customers have long been able to earn rewards and discounts with a range of retailers. Air Miles took to the skies in 1988, Nectar sweetened the shopping experience when it launched in 2002, but it was Barclaycard who launched the first loyalty scheme, in 1986. Now, they’ve become part of the retail landscape.

The next 50 years

New technology, new competitors, new thinking – with everything changing so quickly, it’s hard to see what the world will look like in five years, never mind 50. But there’s one thing that’s certain: whatever the future of shopping, Barclaycard will be in the thick of it, as it has been for half a century.