Crypto Users Are Buying, But Small Businesses Should Accept Payments With Caution

By: on June 30, 2022

Despite wild market and valuation swings, cryptocurrency is expected to grow in popularity and use. In fact, our 2022 cryptocurrency in ecommerce survey indicates that over half of consumers who made an online purchase with crypto in the past 12 months plan to spend more using crypto in the next 12 months.

However, it also suggests it is too soon for most small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to adopt crypto payments.

In this article, we’ll explore who is buying what with crypto, how much they’re spending, and how much crypto they anticipate spending in the future. We’ll focus on the crypto spenders who plan to increase their spending in the next 12 months. We’ll also help you decide whether accepting crypto payments is a smart choice for your business.

Key findings:

  • 58% of crypto spenders plan to increase their ecommerce spending with crypto in the next 12 months.
  • 88% of those who intend to spend more with crypto specifically seek out online retailers that accept crypto.
  • 92% of those who plan to spend more with crypto have once or more than once chosen a different retailer specifically because their preferred retailer did not accept crypto.
  • Just 29% of crypto spenders who plan to spend more with crypto are deterred from paying with crypto because the dollar-equivalent value of cryptocurrencies changes often.

 

Cryptocurrency spenders: Behaviors and preferences

It’s worth keeping in mind that the overall number of consumers who shop with cryptocurrency is small. According to Pew Research Center, just 16% of all U.S. consumers have used cryptocurrencies, whether for investing, trading, or something else.

That said, crypto spenders share some characteristics and behaviors that merchants with younger audiences might find compelling.

Cryptocurrency spenders are mostly college-educated, middle-class Gen Z and Millennial men

Among consumers who plan to increase their retail spending with crypto in the future, 68% identify as men, and 85% are between the ages of 18 and 45. Additionally, two-thirds hold a bachelor’s degree, and nearly a fifth have earned a master’s degree. Nine out of ten spenders are employed full-time, and 65% earn over $50,000 USD in annual household income.



A pie chart displaying the ages of consumers who plan to increase their online purchases with crypto

Crypto spenders tend to shop with crypto fairly infrequently. Just 7% make daily online purchases with crypto, while 63% do so only once per month to a few times per month. Excluding those who weren’t sure how much they’d spent, the vast majority (89%) of crypto spenders spent the equivalent of $5,000 USD or less in total in crypto over the past year; 56% shelled out an average of $100-$500 per transaction.



Crypto spenders prefer Bitcoin over stablecoins

Bitcoin’s value has surged and tanked dramatically several times over the years. Even so, it’s crypto spenders’ most-preferred token: 82% of spenders made payments with Bitcoin in the past year.

The thousands of other cryptocurrencies fall into two categories: altcoins (i.e. “Bitcoin alternatives”) and stablecoins, whose values are intended to match that of fiat currency, typically the U.S. dollar. Until recently, stablecoins were considered a safer choice when shopping because their value doesn’t change. In reality, that stability is not guaranteed—after all, TerraUSD was a U.S. dollar-pegged stablecoin, and its value plummeted to mere cents when it crashed in early May 2022.

In any case, the most-used altcoin and stablecoin are each roughly half as popular as Bitcoin. In the past year, 41% of crypto spenders paid in the altcoin Ethereum, and 39% paid in USD coin, a stablecoin pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Crypto spenders shop first, invest second

We tend to think of cryptocurrency primarily as an investment tool, to be held and sold for capital gains. To be sure, many crypto spenders believe that buying crypto is a good investment: 49% initially acquired crypto “to make money quickly” and 26% did so to save for retirement. However, crypto spenders use their crypto first and foremost to shop.



A bar graph displaying the types of crypto transactions crypto spenders have made in the past 12 months

But for 63% of crypto spenders, the reason they don’t pay with crypto more often is that the retailers they frequent don’t accept it. Crypto spenders are not, for the most part, deterred by crypto’s fluctuating value. Just 29% said the often changing dollar equivalent value of their crypto prevents them from paying with crypto more often.



A bar graph displaying the factors preventing crypto spenders from making crypto payments more frequently

Though news coverage of crypto purchases has focused on NFTs, crypto spenders don’t show a clear preference for buying digital art over other kinds of goods. In the past 12 months, 55% of spenders have spent more crypto on physical products and services, and 45% spent more on virtual products and services, including those sold in the metaverse.

For spenders, crypto is a lifestyle choice

Crypto spenders are angling toward a crypto-positive future: 91% believe crypto payments for goods and services will be more common in the future, and 88% specifically seek out online retailers that accept crypto. Ninety-two percent have at least once or more often opted for a different retailer specifically because their preferred retailer did not accept crypto payments.

At least among this small group of highly committed users, crypto payments are an important development in the future of retail.

Right now, crypto payments are not advantageous for most merchants

In the eyes of its proponents, crypto isn’t just a social movement: they believe it offers consumers and businesses tangible benefits and even some advantages over conventional digital payment methods such as credit and debit cards.

In reality, these perceived benefits don’t always hold true for merchants. Let’s explore the top reasons crypto spenders make crypto payments, and whether they’re relevant to SMBs.



A bar graph displaying the reasons crypto spenders make online purchases using cryptocurrency

Ease of use and accessibility

67% of crypto spenders make purchases with crypto due to ease of use, and 38% because of its accessibility.

For the most part, crypto’s purported ease of use and accessibility check out for merchants:

  • Crypto payments are straightforward and mobile-friendly. At the point of sale, the merchant displays a QR code linked to their crypto wallet. The customer scans the QR code with their smartphone and confirms the payment from their crypto wallet mobile app.
  • Crypto payment gateways such as BitPay and Coinbase Commerce have helped reduce some of the volatility-related risk retailers face. By automatically converting crypto to fiat currency at real-time market rates, payment gateways allow retailers to accept crypto and settle in U.S. dollars.

One issue is that crypto payment processing is notoriously slow. Whereas credit card payments reliably clear in a few seconds, it takes between minutes and hours for Bitcoin transactions to clear. Routine point-of-sale slowdowns could pose a serious problem to an SMB that accepts crypto.

Privacy

51% of crypto spenders choose to pay with crypto due to privacy.

The idea that no one can see what you’re buying with crypto is a dated misconception.

  • Increased regulation makes it easier to link crypto wallets to human owners. Crypto exchanges are now required to share “know your customer” data (e.g., users’ Social Security numbers) with the U.S. government to help combat money laundering. As regulators get more involved, expect less privacy.
  • Crypto capital gains are taxable. Merchants need to report any changes in value between receiving crypto payments and converting them to U.S. dollars.

“Low” transaction fees

53% of crypto spenders cite low transaction fees as a reason for paying with crypto.

It’s supposedly cheaper to process crypto transactions than credit card transactions. While crypto’s much-touted “low fees” may apply to consumers when buying and trading crypto, the claim is misleading to retailers.

  • Fees vary by crypto exchange as well as individual cryptocurrencies. Some tokens trade for pennies on certain exchanges, while popular options such as Bitcoin and Ethereum tend to carry higher exchange fees.
  • Fees rise with transaction totals because bigger payments have more data to process.
  • Crypto fees rise and fall over time. As of June 2022, the average Bitcoin fee lies somewhere between $1 and $2 USD. On March 2, 2022, it was $4.47. In May 2022, Ethereum’s fee peaked at $23.82 per transaction.

Crypto could help retailers sidestep fees for international transactions. Instead of converting their money to U.S. dollars, international customers could simply pay in crypto. But the merchant would still need to use an exchange or payment gateway to convert that crypto to dollars, resulting in—you guessed it—more fees.

Given the variability of transaction fees and the extra steps needed to convert crypto to dollars, it’s not clear that retailers stand to save any money with crypto versus credit cards.

Should your business accept crypto payments?

If your audience fits the profile of crypto spenders and you can justify the transaction fees, accepting crypto payments might be worth a shot.

For now, there are still serious drawbacks to accepting crypto. Until processing speeds up, fees drop, and the crypto market stops crashing, the resources and risks involved in adopting crypto pay could easily outweigh the benefits.

If you choose to accept crypto payments, here are some best practices to consider.

  • Use the cryptocurrencies and payment gateways consumer prefer. Work with what your customers know and use a crypto gateway that’s compatible with Bitcoin, Ethereum, and stablecoins like USD Coin. Our research indicates that preferred gateways include BitPay, Coinbase Commerce, and PayPal, each of which support one or more of the above cryptocurrencies.
  • Market the fact that you accept crypto.The number-one reason crypto spenders don’t pay with crypto more often is because the retailers they shop with don’t take it. If you accept crypto, crypto spenders want to find you, so make yourself visible where the community congregates. Start by beefing up your social media marketing – 40% of crypto spenders initially acquired crypto because it was trending on social media.
  • Keep your revenue expectations low. While crypto’s appeal to younger consumers points to increased future use, not many shoppers currently use crypto as payment. Furthermore, those who do pay with crypto do so relatively infrequently. Don’t expect to rake in millions in Bitcoin anytime soon.

Proceed with caution with crypto payments

To the practically-minded business owner, crypto payment hype can seem underserved at best and dangerous at worst. While SMBs don’t necessarily need to accept crypto right this second, it’s important to pay attention to young consumers’ preferences as the crypto payment trend develops.

One day, crypto payments really could be the future. But it’s advisable to hold off until the need for crypto payments becomes clear.


Methodology

Software Advice’s 2022 Cryptocurrency in Ecommerce Survey was conducted in May 2022 among 596 U.S. consumers to learn more about their preferences and behaviors regarding cryptocurrency as a form of payment when shopping online. All respondents indicated using cryptocurrency to make purchases at least once per month during the previous 12 months. This report focuses on the 346 respondents who say they plan to spend more with cryptocurrency in the next 12 months compared to the past 12 months.

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