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New Xero data shows US small business invoicing payment times improve

March 5, 2024

Timely payments provide essential cash flow relief during persistent 8-month period of slow sales.
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Xero, the global small business platform, today released new data as part of its Xero Small Business Insights (XSBI) program, which aggregates and anonymizes data from tens of thousands of Xero small business subscribers in North America.

This iteration of the quarterly data, which has tracked performance metrics from January 2017 through September 2023, reveals that overall sales across small businesses have declined for eight consecutive months (measured on a year-over-year basis). XSBI data also shows that payment times improved for small businesses that invoice customers, providing some modest relief during times of slow sales growth.

Small business sales continue to weaken, despite the overall economic growth continuing to surprise on the upside

The monthly September XSBI sales results marked the largest decline in sales since May 2020 and the longest run of consecutive declines in the history of this series.

  • Sales fell an average of 4.9% y/y in the three months to September, similar to the average 4.8% y/y decline in the three months to June.
  • The largest monthly decline in the most recent quarter was in September, where sales fell 7.0% y/y.
  • Using the US CPI as a proxy for prices, sales volumes declined an average of 8.4% y/y in the three months to September after declining an average of 8.8% y/y in the three months to June.

This sales data is consistent with the latest National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Optimism Index, where a net 11% of all owners reported lower nominal sales in the past three months. This survey also showed that small business owners remain pessimistic about economic prospects for 2024. In contrast, the US economy as a whole has continued to surprise in its strength, with quarterly nominal GDP rising 5.9% y/y in the September quarter.

“The combination of the XSBI sales and GDP results suggests that US small businesses are missing out on the spending happening in the US economy,” said Louise Southall, Economist at Xero. “This is disappointing and highlights the importance of business owners utilizing all the levers they have to attract increasingly scarce customers, such as loyalty programs and regular specials.”

Payment times show continued signs of improvement

In more positive news, the XSBI data shows improvements in how long small businesses are waiting to be paid by customers, although they are still, on average, paid more than a week late.

  • Small businesses waited an average of 27.6 days to be paid in the September quarter. This is 0.4 days quicker than the June quarter (28.0 days) and 1.2 days quicker than the March quarter (28.9 days).
  • Small businesses were paid an average of 8.2 days late in the September quarter. This is 1.1 days shorter than the June quarter (9.3 days) and 0.3 days quicker than the March quarter (8.5 days).
  • The worst late payment result in the quarter was in July, when payments were made on average 10.3 days late - the longest late payment time since March 2021 (12.6 days).

“Any improvement in payment times will always be positive - and welcomed - by business owners. However, it is essential that small business owners continue to take steps to receive timelier payments from customers,” said Ben Richmond, US Country Manager at Xero. “Being paid more than a week late is still much too long and makes cash flow management challenging. As small business owners look to identify growth opportunities during slow periods, encouraging timely payments to maintain cash flow is important.”

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