Newly popular “pay later” services allow users all over the world to purchase items now and make payments in interest-free installments. It’s layaway without the wait.
Purchasing an expensive laptop, TV, or smartphone might have been a shock to the wallet before, but now? Impulse buys as big as furniture or gym equipment, or as small as a lipstick or a new shirt, can be made without hesitation thanks to the option to buy now and pay later.
Through increasingly prevalent “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) options offered at checkout, shoppers both online and in-store can get the products they want right when they want them — and have checkout totals automatically broken down into smaller, more manageable, interest-free payments. What’s more, BNPL is already getting a boost from big brands like Peloton, which now offers customers interest-free payment plans for many of their popular exercise products.
BNPL represents the next great disruption for both retailers and financial service companies. Fueled by partnerships that enable these innovative services to skip interest, late fees, or other frustrating hidden charges consumers face on the path to purchase, BNPL is quickly becoming an attractive way to pay at checkout.
Beyond the trend-setting fitness brand Peloton, several other major retailers and consumer brands have begun offering BNPL point-of-sale financing to their customers at checkout in recent years, including Walmart, GameStop, Macy’s, Gap, and even Neiman Marcus. Through a mutually beneficial partnership with BNPL companies, retailers both in-store and online can offer interest-free financing to their customers — allowing shoppers to continue getting the products they love while dodging initial sticker shock. And since retailers are the ones charged for BNPL capability, collateral expenses don’t get passed down to consumers in the form of interest, late fees, or hidden service fees.
With interest out of the picture, and no “catch” to speak of, BNPL is already making a splash with shoppers. Recent market analysis by ResearchAndMarkets.com predicts continued BNPL market expansion at a blistering 42% growth rate this year. And according to a survey report by The Ascent, 56% of Americans have taken advantage of BNPL in some form already.
To avoid missing out on the meteoric rise of BNPL, larger financial services companies like PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard have also begun partnering with BNPL companies to offer interest-free, installment-based payment options as well. For example, with PayPal’s “Pay in 4,” shoppers can make purchases from a variety of ecommerce merchants up to $600, then pay off a quarter of the principal amount every two weeks, interest-free.
In early 2020, during a time in which many consumers struggled with job loss and reduced income during lockdowns, BNPL apps helped many stretch their dollars well into the holidays and make purchases they might not have been able to without a payment plan.
Since the price of certain consumer electronics like smartphones has doubled in the past six years alone, the ability to split the cost of $1,000+ smartphones into smaller, interest-free payments is often a much more attractive option to consumers on a reduced monthly budget. And with many shifting to online shopping to stay safe and socially distanced in accordance with various state pandemic guidelines, BNPL services were able to effectively rise with the digital tide.
Even just months into the pandemic, SYKES found that many digital financial services and apps, including banking, stock trading, and cryptocurrency, experienced a unique period of growth as Americans everywhere looked for new ways to avoid in-person contact and stay safe. Back then, SYKES found that nearly every touchless, digital, or online self-service product, like meal kit services and food delivery apps, experienced unique periods of double-digit growth. And considering that 41% of holiday shoppers in 2020 said they’d be buying their gifts exclusively online, BNPL was in an excellent position to capitalize on the colossal digital shift to gain greater awareness in the marketplace over the course of the 2020 holiday season.
Sure enough, Q4 of 2020 showed massive returns for BNPL companies that were, at the time, already aligning with highly sought-after consumer products and major online retailers. Afterpay reported a gigantic 30% boost to transaction size over the 2020 holiday season compared to sales during the same period in 2019, and Split it grew a reported 200% during the same time frame.
Additionally, it appears many BNPL consumers appear to be enjoying the service — or at least coming back for more. Afterpay has since reported that 91% of their users are repeat customer. Time will tell if BNPL companies are able to maintain similar rates of retention and growth in the future, but for now, BNPL is quickly rising into the mainstream and gaining momentum with North American consumers.
To get a sense of which BNPL companies consumers are searching most — certainly prompted by various payment options offered at checkout — SYKES collected Google Trends data over the course of a year starting in May 2020. Below, you can see the top-searched BNPL brand in each U.S. state and Canadian province.
|Alabama||Affirm/Afterpay/Quadpay (3-way tie)|
|California||Affirm/PayBright (2-way tie)|
|Connecticut||Klarna/Affirm (2-way tie)|
|Mississippi||Klarna/Afterpay/Quadpay (3-way tie)|
|New York||hoolah/PayBright (2-way tie)|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||PayBright|
|Ontario||Affirm/Splitit (2-way tie)|
|Prince Edward Island||Afterpay|
Following its successful 2019 partnership with Walmart, the U.S. company Affirm has gone on to dominate the conversation surrounding BNPL in America — at least online. Since Affirm is offered as an alternative option for payment on Walmart.com, it’s likely that added exposure from the retail giant has helped boost its mentions in the marketplace. Affirm tied for most searched in three states as well as Washington, D.C. In January, Affirm acquired Canada-based BNPL app PayBright, putting the popular fintech in an even better position to continue gaining awareness and users in the United States.
The second most-searched BNPL service in the U.S. is Israeli-based brand Splitit, which was searched most in seven states. Swedish fintech Klarna was most searched in four, tying with others in Mississippi and Alabama, and U.K.-based company Zilch was most searched in two states.
Meanwhile in Canada, Affirm was the most-searched BNPL service in all of Alberta and tied for most searched in Ontario — Canada’s biggest province by population — with the smaller, up-and-coming brand Splitit. Behind the leading two BNPL brands (Affirm and Splitit), French company Atome was most searched in all of Québec, U.S.-based Quadpay was most googled in British Columbia, and Zilch was most popular in Manitoba.
Without pesky interest, hidden fees, or even late fees to worry about in many cases, it’s no surprise that consumers all over North America are flocking to take advantage of BNPL. And for retailers looking to continue selling $1,000+ flagship electronics, high-tech exercise equipment, or even just new outfits from the rack, BNPL can mean a new way to bring budget-conscious consumers to the table.