29 June 2023 - 8 min Reading time
As the preferred means of payment for Belgians, digital payments* confirm a fundamental trend that has been ongoing for several years. This year, once again, we see a sustained increase in the number of people opting for digital payments. These findings are supported by the latest Digital Payments Barometer, an Ipsos study conducted by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in partnership with Febelfin, Bancontact Payconiq Company, Mastercard, Visa and Worldline.
* By “digital payments”, we mean card payments and mobile payments.
The Barometer explores payment trends in Belgium, including contactless payments through QR codes or connected objects, as well as the rise of cryptocurrencies. Additionally, it serves as an opportunity to celebrate Digital Payment Day on 1st July, dedicated to the significance of digital payments.
Contactless card payments, which struggled to take hold before 2020, have become standardised and continue to experience steady growth over the years.
A significant 79% of Belgians have already made at least one payment with a contactless card in a physical store, compared to just 47% before the health crisis. Last year, this figure reached 74%.
Almost three-quarters of Belgians also say they are comfortable with using contactless card payments, a notable increase from the pre-coronavirus rate of 43%.
While contactless card payments have become the norm for most individuals, it is noteworthy that 35-44-year-olds lead the way, with 86% having already used contactless cards for payments. This is followed by 55-64-year olds (83%) and 16-24-year-olds (81%).
Therefore, Belgians prefer contactless card payments as their payment method of choice. As a matter of fact, 38% of respondents state that they would choose contactless payment if they had to select from various payment forms.
The ongoing trend towards contactless payments is expected to further expand in the future. 26% of individuals who have not yet adopted this payment method have plans to do so. This statistic indicates that contactless card payments could continue to grow in popularity.
The percentage of Belgians using mobile payments (by QR code and connected objects combined) in physical stores has increased: 44% used this payment method in 2023, compared to 40% in 2022. If we examine the different mobile payment options, 36% of Belgians have opted for QR code payments in stores, while 23% have chosen connected objects such as smartphones, smartwatches, etc.
Belgians seem increasingly comfortable with mobile payments through QR codes. In 2023, 44% of respondents reported feeling at ease with this payment method, a slight increase from the 42% recorded in 2022.
Mobile payments via QR codes are popular among young individuals, with 50% of 16-24-year-olds and 48% of 25-34-year-olds having already used this method.
As for payments with connected objects, they are predominantly embraced by the 25-34 age group (36%) and the 16-24 age group (35%). It remains the preferred payment method (8%) compared to QR codes (5%) among those aged 16-44.
Among these age categories, mobile payments are most frequently cited as the preferred means of payment: 23% among 16-24-year-olds and 21% among 25-34-year-olds (compared to 11% the previous year).
Furthermore, the usage of mobile payments is expected to continue its upward trajectory in the future, with 26% of individuals who have yet to employ this payment method, expressing plans to do so in the future.
According to the survey results, an impressive 83% of Belgians now favour digital payments over cash. On average, Belgians use electronic payments twice as often as cash transactions in physical stores. This trend indicates a decreasing reliance on carrying cash, with Belgians now carrying an average of 56 euros compared to 61 euros before the coronavirus crisis - a decrease of over 8%.
The use of cash continues to decline, but less pronounced than during the height of the pandemic.
Online shopping continues to be popular. More than four out of five Belgians purchase products or services on the Internet.
In general, debit cards remain the most commonly used payment method, regardless of the amount of the purchase. However, for smaller transactions (<25 euros), Belgians are increasingly turning to banking applications, with 23% using them compared to 19% last year. At the same time, for larger purchases (>50 euros), Belgians frequently use both their credit and debit cards.
Cryptocurrencies have been a topic of discussion for quite some time, and the study results reflect this: the majority of Belgians have already heard of cryptocurrencies, with a notable increase from 87% in 2022 to 90%. However, ownership remains relatively low, with only one in five Belgians actually holding cryptocurrencies. This is similar to 2022.
Ownership of cryptocurrencies is particularly prominent among young individuals, specifically those aged 16 to 24 (36%) and 25 to 34 (34%), predominantly among men. As age increases, the ownership of cryptocurrencies tends to decline.
The main motivation for cryptocurrency holders is investment. This is the case for 28% of the respondents. The second most important reason for owning cryptocurrency is to be able to use it as a means of payment (24%).
The popularity of cryptocurrencies among younger generations highlights the importance of financial education in this realm. In this regard, partners are actively working towards raising awareness and fostering informed financial decisions. Such efforts are crucial in helping consumers and investors understand the risks and potential pitfalls associated with these new forms of currency.
On 1st July, we celebrate Digital Payment Day once again. For several years, the partners Febelfin, Bancontact Payconiq Company, Mastercard, Visa and Worldline have been promoting this special day to encourage consumers to favour digital payments, whether it’s through cards, smartphones, watches or another connected device.
This day also marks the one-year anniversary of the implementation of a law that standardizes digital payments across all businesses and liberal professions. The primary goal is to ensure that consumers have the option to pay digitally.
The new law takes into account the evolving payment habits and empowers merchants to better meet the expectations of their customers. Refusal of digital payments can be a decisive factor for customers: as revealed by the study that shows that over one in 10 Belgians have left a store where electronic payments were not possible.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that two-thirds of Belgians are aware of the recent legislation mandating merchants to provide an electronic payment method alongside cash. Compared to the previous year, more Belgians confirm that they have always had access to electronic payment options. While this may be attributed to the new legislation, the fact remains that three out of five people indicate they have encountered situations where electronic payments were not feasible.
The Digital Payments Barometer is a comprehensive compilation of survey findings on payment trends in Belgium. This extensive research was conducted by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel’s Department of Applied Economics, led by Professor Leo Van Hove, Professor in Monetary Economics, and Dr Ellen Van Droogenbroeck, Macroeconomics and Statistics Assistant. In March of this year, a representative sample of 1,187 Belgians participated in this survey, online or via telephone, sharing their payment habits and preferences. The results provide valuable insights into the payment behaviours of Belgians and offer a means to track the development of digital payments. The Barometer is part of a broader initiative aimed at promoting digital payments. It was launched in 2020 and the first results were published in 2021.