European SMEs Are Increasingly Making Online Payments, According to Research by Qonto

European SMEs are increasingly using cards and making online and  virtual payments, according to research by Qonto, the European business finance  solution for SMEs.

Analysis published has looked at “the spending habits of 350,000 SMEs and freelancers.” The  data “shows increased card usage as well as growing adoption of online and virtual payments  from European SMEs. ”

The report also highlights “marked local and sectoral differences in spending habits, as well as a  huge increase in the average number of transactions on TikTok.”

European SMEs pay more and more online 

Since 2022, the average number of payments per organization “has significantly increased for both  offline and online purchases.”

However, online payments are being “made with increasing frequency,  with 40% growth year-on-year in Q1 2023, compared to 5% for offline payments (i.e. transactions  processed directly in shops and merchants through a payment terminal).”

French SMEs, with a 41% year-on-year growth in online payments in Q1 2023, “show the strongest increase in online payments adoption in Europe. Italy and Germany are just behind at 34%.”

In Spain, online payments “remain stable year-on-year, but Spanish SMEs and Freelancers have the  highest average number of online transactions per organization in the EU.”

Virtual cards on the rise across Europe since 2022 

European businesses show “increased adoption of virtual card payments. In Q1 2023, the average  number of virtual card usage per organization grew three times faster year-on-year than for physical  cards, at 50% over the course of 2022.”

Physical cards remain “the preferred payment option for European SMEs and Freelancers at 60%,  except in Spain where the number of virtual card transactions is sometimes more than twice as high  as physical cards, with a marked peak in January 2023.”  

Huge growth in online and virtual payments in ‘traditional’ sectors  

Businesses in traditional sectors show “the highest growth of adoption in both virtual card usage and  online payments across all markets.”

For example, Construction and Transportation & Storage, “recorded a year-on-year growth of 34%  and 51% respectively in online payments in Q1 2023.”

Construction companies have “increased their use of virtual cards by a huge 132% between January 1 and  December 31, 2022, although the average volume of transactions remained lower than that of  physical cards.”

Transportation & Storage companies “proved themselves leaders in virtual card adoption, showing a  spectacular 190% increase in virtual card usage in Q1 2023.”

Highest spend for European SMEs and freelancers is on primary goods and online services  

Across all Qonto markets, “the biggest part of business spending is dedicated to primary goods and  needs, such as food, fuel, and transportation.”

Together, these spending items “represented 35% of  all transactions made by companies during Q1 2023.”

However, between 2022 and 2023, there was “a huge increase in the average number of  transactions made for online services (+18% year-on-year in Q1), with Italian SMEs and freelancers  in the lead at 22%. ”

Together, primary goods and online services “make up 44% of payments realized by SMEs and  freelancers in this market.”

European SMEs shun air travel and prefer to take the train 

When it comes to business trips, European SMEs choose “the train over the plane.”

This trend has “become even more apparent at the beginning of 2023.”

Across all markets, train bookings “exceed plane bookings with at least 55%.”

A 28% increase salary spend in Germany 

Between January 2022 and Q1 2023, the average amount “spent on salaries saw wide variation from  country to country.”

German SMEs and Freelancer salary spend “increased 28% year-on-year in Q1 2023, after a  progressive increase over 2022.”

In Spain, salary spend started to increase early 2023, “with a slight 8% year-on-year growth, while in  France and Italy, payroll spending remained flat over 2022 and during Q1 2023.”

Unequal impact of food price inflation across markets 

In a context of high inflation, food and grocery prices went through several variations in 2022 and kept “increasing during Q1 2023, leading to a rapid increase in spending, notably at the end of 2022.”

Italy showed the highest month-on-month “increase in the average amount spent on food in  December 2022 with a 32.5% increase.”

In Germany and Spain it “went up by 27.5% in December 2022, before decreasing again in January  2023.” It has since “stabilized.”

In France, food inflation “was lower, but was nevertheless significant. (+15% month-on-month in  December 2022).”

Created in 2016 by Alexandre Prot and Steve Anavi, Qonto now operates “in 4 European markets  (France, Germany, Italy, and Spain), and employs more than 1,000 people.”

Since its creation, Qonto has raised €622 million “from well-established investors. Qonto is one of France’s  most highly valued scale-ups and has been listed in the Next40 index, bringing together future global tech  leaders, since 2021.”


This Qonto data study was “conducted between January 2022 and May 2023, among +350,000 SMEs  (with up to 150 employees) and freelancers in Germany, Spain, France and Italy. The classification of  sectors is based on Eurostat NACE Classification values.”

The data analysis focuses “on the average number of card transactions by organization, as well as the  average amounts spent by organization, by card and transfers.”

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