New Q2 data: Growing investments in future-forward categories
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At Ramp, our access to over $10 billion per year in corporate credit card and AP payments offers a rich look at how macroeconomic movements line up with companies’ on-the-ground spending patterns. Our Q2 2023 Spending Benchmarks report released today sheds light on the latest data and trends.
Overall, the Q2 numbers point to a sense of cautious optimism among businesses. Spending in most areas went up, continuing the trend we saw toward the end of Q1. Businesses are investing in growth-oriented categories like advertising and cloud computing, indicating that companies are looking at the long term and not just trying to stay afloat. But while the quarter was strong, year-over-year spending trends are still down, and there are several warning signs ahead.
Read on to understand the trends we’re seeing and download the report for all 34 charts detailing our Q2 insights.
1. In stark contrast to consumer spending, business spending rose in most categories.
While consumers pulled back spending in nearly all categories in Q2 according to a recent Morning Consult survey, businesses spent more liberally. Not only were business card expenditures up in seven out of the top 10 expense categories, but transaction volume was also up significantly—indicating that the rise in spending wasn’t just a natural follow-on from higher costs due to inflation. Quarter-over-quarter AP expenditures rose significantly as well, led by large SMBs with an 18.6% increase in median AP spend.
2. IT spending patterns show businesses shifting away from software and electronics in favor of cloud computing.
Software spending dropped to its lowest levels in a year for mid-market and large SMB companies, with many well-known vendors seeing drops in customer counts. Electronics spending also took a hit: the category was down slightly quarter-over-quarter and significantly year-over-year across companies of all sizes.
Cloud computing was the big winner in IT. Not only was it the second fastest-growing category by transaction volume, but Amazon Web Services saw a nearly 20% increase in year-over-year card transaction volume.
Businesses continuing to ramp up investment in off-prem efficiencies could hint at—or at least smooth the way for—the stickiness of the shift to remote work. Meanwhile, the drop in electronics spending may reflect the longer replacement cycles and general oversupply highlighted in recent Gartner research.
3. Spending on AI continues to soar, while professional services spending drops.
We have been tracking AI expenses since Q4 2022. More and more, when companies are spending on software, it’s for AI-related purposes. This quarter, the top three fastest-growing software vendors by customer count are all AI-focused: Midjourney, Fireflies.ai, and OpenAI.
At the same time, there has been a quarter-over-quarter drop in professional services spending, with leading vendors providing freelance services and outsourced talent seeing a year-over-year decline in same-store spending.
While it’s yet to be seen whether these patterns indicate that companies aim to “outsource” work to AI as wages rise and the hunt for talent continues, businesses are clearly experimenting with generative AI capabilities.
4. Businesses are resisting the temptation to cut ad spend—but are reverting to more mainstream channels.
Advertising is usually an easy place for businesses to immediately cut costs during times of uncertainty. We were the first in the industry to report a precipitous decline in this category back in Q2 2022. Now our data show many companies are doing the opposite. For mid-market and small SMBs, advertising card spending actually rose to its highest levels in a year.
Google Ads and Facebook Ads were the big winners in Q2, with both seeing increases in card volume. This could signal a trend reversal for Google, which had in past quarters experienced slight declines. Meanwhile, Reddit and TikTok both saw spending drop as the two companies experienced a spate of negative press.
5. Business customers appear less concerned about inflation but are increasingly focused on cost-cutting.
With the newest inflation data showing signs of easing, businesses are accordingly mentioning inflation less during our customer calls. However, mentions of cost-cutting are rising, with the topic mentioned twice as often during Q2 calls as Q1 calls.
These discussions align with our outlook that customers are cautiously optimistic—not slowing down spending altogether, but rather spending judiciously and focusing on areas that will help build brands and increase capabilities while staying lean.
Additionally, while April and May showed increases in same-store spending for the overwhelming majority of merchant categories, same-store spending in June fell in 27 out of 39 categories. This could indicate an upcoming change in sentiment and a shift to a more defensive position as companies prepare for a possible era of slower growth.
Get the Q2 Spending Benchmarks report
Our new report reveals the latest winners and losers in this ever-changing economy. Download the report to explore our spending data, down to the vendor level. See where businesses are setting their sights next.