As the number of cryptocurrency owners making purchases in stores and online grows rapidly, thanks in large part to the increasing number of crypto credit cards making such spending far easier than it was a year or two ago, it’s worth looking at who’s spending it and what they are spending it on.
In April, PYMNTS’ U.S. Crypto Consumer study found that 23% of consumers— almost 60 million — have owned crypto in the past 12 months, and of those, 30% used it for purchases, 21% in brick-and-mortar stores.
One point that came out in the study, and was reinforced by anecdotal evidence, is that people rarely buy crypto to spend it. But when they have it, they’re more likely to want to spend it.
That’s particularly true when prices are high, said Stephen Pair, CEO of crypto payments technology firm BitPay, in an interview with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster. When it’s low, they tend not to, or if they know they’ll want to spend some of their holdings, they’ll put it into stablecoins in good times to spend in crypto bear markets.
What and How They’re Spending
While bitcoin was the most-spent digital asset, used by about three-quarters of crypto spenders, it’s worth noting that 16 other cryptocurrencies were used to make purchases by 30% to 45% of respondents, and another eight tokens by 20% to 30%.
Interestingly, in virtually all cases, the amount spent in stores was near, or in some cases — including bitcoin and another top payments-focused token, bitcoin cash — spent slightly more often at retail than online.
Given how few major retailers accept crypto directly at the point of sale (POS), that would seem to suggest that Visa- and Mastercard-branded crypto debit and pre-paid cards, which allow cardholders to spend crypto but pay merchants in fiat, are in wide use among crypto holders.
Yet, more of the crypto-spending consumers surveyed — almost 75% — said they used digital wallets in stores than any other method. Using digital wallets to make payments online was No. 2 at nearly 70%.
Crypto cards in stores was third, at just about two-thirds. They were used online by about 55%.
The Crypto Wealthy
A couple of things stand out. First, a large percentage of those consumers, about 20% to 25%, used crypto for high-priced to very high-priced items like real estate and vehicles, as well as potentially large-ticket purchases such as travel, jewelry, gold and furniture. That wasn’t far below the number of users spending crypto on mundane purchases like groceries, clothing, food delivery and attending events.
That does suggest that a high percentage of crypto spenders are crypto-wealthy — or at least well-off: people who’ve made well into the six figures on their investments, at least.
On the high end, that includes early investors in bitcoin, ether and other assets who have made large or even huge returns, despite bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies having lost more than half of their value since November. Some of that is fairly recent. At the end of 2021, five cryptocurrencies were up about 10,000% to 15,000% and a few others 2,000% to 3,000% over the year.
If you think about it, who makes large-ticket purchases in crypto? If you’re well off enough to have bought tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in bitcoin after it started skyrocketing — which is about when it became a more mainstream investment — you’ve got enough liquid assets to use dollars or other traditional fiat currencies. Why pay the full value of a house in crypto all at once when you could take out a 20- or 30-year mortgage in dollars, particularly when more recent bitcoin investors tend to be hoping for sky-high returns?
Looking at categories like groceries, clothing, computers and tech gear, education and training, restaurants and food delivery, subscription-based products and entertainment, and going out to events, two likely types of spenders emerge.
First, the same crypto-wealthy group that is spending big would also spend small. It’s a group that by and large doesn’t tend to diversify too much, believing that crypto has a lot of “mooning” yet to come.
Second, you’ve got people who’ve made some extra income and want to spend it living a bit larger or to cover basics.
That tallies with other findings in the “U.S. Crypto Consumer: Cryptocurrency Use in Online and in-Store Purchases” study.
For one thing, it found high-income consumers and millennials — those with six-figure incomes — “are most likely to view cryptocurrency as a payment option” and are more likely to say they prefer to shop at merchants that take crypto. But while that was 28%, 20% of the crypto spenders earning under $50,000 said the same thing.
So, who’s spending crypto?
Like anything else, those who have more wealth to spend, spend it more. But a growing number of users across the income spectrum are spending it as more people buy cryptocurrencies as an investment and ways to spend it becomes easier.