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76% of U.S. Businesses Are Optimistic About B2B Spending Over Next 12 Months

Automation is the fastest anticipated growth area among the U.S. businesses surveyed.


• Survey indicates that U.S. spending is on the rise across nine key business-to-business (B2B) categories.

• U.S. survey respondents cited that raw or processed materials, such as lumber, metals, and chemicals, are outpacing all other B2B spending categories.

• Automation is anticipated to be the fastest-growing area in technology spending, with nearly half of U.S. survey respondents planning to automate or further automate their B2B payments over the next year.

• Flexibility is key for the U.S. businesses surveyed, which are adapting their supply chains due to pandemic challenges.

Out of six countries’ businesses surveyed by American Express, U.S. businesses are the most bullish and optimistic when it comes to business-to-business (B2B) spending, with 76% of U.S. businesses expressing optimism about their prospects over the next 12 months.

According to American Express’ “Global Business Spend Indicator (GBSI),” a survey of global businesses conducted with the Centre for Business and Economic Research (CEBR), B2B spending in the U.S. will be an average of 3.4% higher in the second quarter compared to the same period last year. Applying that projection from the survey’s respondents to broader U.S. macroeconomic data would equate to an estimated $140 billion in additional B2B spending from U.S. businesses.

The GBSI is designed to explore the importance of business spending in both the global and local economies based on a survey of more than 3,600 businesses of all sizes and across industries in the UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico and the U.S. For this report, B2B spend is classified as goods and services that businesses purchase from another business to keep their businesses running. The survey looked at nine B2B spending categories, and three additional categories of taxes, people/workforce and travel/entertainment/expenses for a robust look at the dynamics and impact of overall business spending.

“B2B spending is an important bellwether for the overall health of the economy, and the GBSI study shows U.S. businesses are investing and spending more, whether to adopt to the new ways of operating during the pandemic, or to digitize and streamline their operations,” said Dean Henry, executive vice president of global commercial services at New York-based American Express. “It also reveals that some of the trends that have emerged or accelerated during the pandemic, such as payments automation and new approaches to managing the supply chain, are likely here to stay.”

The CEBR estimates that the value of B2B expenditures each year amounts to nearly half (48%) of gross output (the total value of sales or receipts) in the U.S. economy. This means that for each dollar spent in the U.S. economy, about 48 cents are B2B transactions.

Raw or Processed Materials Top B2B Spend Categories

U.S. businesses surveyed reported that they have increased their overall B2B spending across all the core categories since the start of the year. The highest growth rates were in spending on raw or processed materials such as lumber, metals and chemicals, which rose by an average of 6.2% between the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, according to survey respondents. This would equate to an estimated $37 billion in additional spend when applied to U.S. macroeconomic data, most likely due to rising prices of raw materials after the onset of the pandemic.

This trend is expected to continue, according to American Express, with the U.S. businesses surveyed anticipating another 6.4% rise in spending in this category from the second quarter of 2021 over the prior quarter.

U.S. Businesses Lead in Payments Automation

Within the technology spending category, automation is the fastest anticipated growth area among the U.S. businesses surveyed. While many businesses have already been digitizing their B2B payments over the past few years, the pandemic helped accelerate this trend more broadly.

The GBSI found that U.S. businesses have the highest level of automation of the six surveyed countries across most business functions, including with purchasing/procurement, payroll, paying suppliers, supplier analysis and syncing payments to the existing ledger. In fact, nearly half of U.S. businesses surveyed said they are mostly or fully automating the making (48%) and receiving (51%) of payments from business customers. In addition, there is more opportunity ahead as nearly half (46%) plan to automate or further automate each of these functions over the next 12 months.

With more automation, U.S. businesses may vastly reduce their reliance on manual payment methods — like writing and sending physical checks — which are still prevalent, with 33% of U.S. business spend currently using physical payment methods, according to the businesses surveyed.

On the whole, technology spending by U.S. businesses surveyed rose by an average of 4.1% between the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, equating to an estimated $25 billion in additional spend when applied to U.S. macroeconomic data, likely driven by the rapid digitization of businesses such as e-commerce capabilities or website enhancements. Nearly a quarter (22%) of U.S. businesses surveyed list increasing their online presence among their top three goals and 39% expect to expand their use of virtual cards over the next 12 months.

For many businesses, the experiences during the pandemic highlighted ways to streamline and seek more flexible ways to manage their supply chains and operating practices, American Express found. Over the last 12 months, 23% of U.S. businesses surveyed took steps to simplify their network of suppliers, 23% reduced or avoided long-term commitments to purchase from specific suppliers, and 22% chose suppliers with more flexible payment terms.

Over the next 12 months, U.S. businesses in the survey cite increasing profitability (34%), securing new business or bringing on new customers (32%), and remaining competitive (31%) as being among their three most important goals.

“Global Business Spend Indicator (GBSI)” survey was conducted in March and April. The sample comprised 1,044 respondents in the U.S., 528 in Australia, 515 in Canada, 516 in Japan, 544 in Mexico and 537 in the UK.