Within the last few years, a new payment option has slowly been rolling out across websites for consumers in the form of “buy now, pay later.” This system gives consumers the ability to split a payment up across a longer period of time and in small increments, and also tends to skip on interest or other standard monetary fees. In essence, this makes them a new style of layaway plan for modern day, and proponents of ‘buy now, pay later’ systems are stating this is one of the best chances to revitalize a worldwide marketplace rocked by the COVID pandemic.
On the European side of things, Klarna has an evaluation of $10 billion, which firmly cements it as the most valuable privately owned fintech firm in the country (and fourth overall globally). Australia’s Afterpay is another big player with its own substantial platform, while the United States based Affirm is looking to start its own IPO in the $5-$10 billion range. Of course, Paypal has long been in this market, and other companies – including Visa – are working with their own offerings.
Put another way: It’s big business. Big, big business. Forbes estimates as much as $24 billion annually. That’s definitely something. There are millions of users globally for these apps, with millions of purchases annually, and more are growing by the day.
Traditionally, consumers were relegated to using credit cards to facilitate purchases that they needed additional time, giving them the ability to obtain funds while retaining their ability to bring home goods and services. This comes with interest so that merchants and vendors have an incentive – they still make a sale, gather money over time, and get a little extra on top.
By contrast, ‘buy now, pay later’ systems are geared differently, aiming instead to address a growing digital market where sales are primarily online (or steadily getting there). Consumers may window shop even on websites, and ultimately abandon their carts when the purchase screen finally appears. This is where BNPL shines – it suddenly gives these shoppers a way to still move forward while lessening the initial monetary blow and giving them a way out of dreaded interest. Especially in these uncertain times, this has become a lifesaver for customers and vendors alike. The former gains the ability to purchase more with few penalties (if any), and the latter sees greater conversion and increased sales.
Meanwhile, the BNPL merchant is able to charge a higher percentage commission to the vendors – more so than credit cards even – to net themselves their own piece of the pie. Even with BNPL’s higher merchant fees of 4-6% in revenue compared to credit card companies, the pure numbers emphatically prove that this system is beneficial to everyone. As pointed out by Fintechtris, “Even though higher fees are being paid, retailers are able to take advantage of: an increase in shopping cart size (up to 30%), decrease in abandonment at checkout (down up to 25%), and repeat customers (up to 20% more). In particular, Affirm, Afterpay, and Klarna (some of the largest BNPL fintech companies) saw average order value (AVO) rise 85%, 30%, and 45% respectively.”
Further, BNPL users have a variety of reasons for choosing this method over credit cards, including avoiding interest, the ability to borrow without a credit check, and being able to go outside of an existing budget without straying into troubled territory.
Perhaps even more interesting is that BNPL companies are suffering lower delinquency rates compared to credit cards, with problematic payments at around 1.1% compared to 5.7% elsewhere. BNPL – with its lack of punitive measures – seems to attract all kinds of customers; it’s not just for those that might represent risk.
There is still something to be said about the dangers of overborrowing, with the possibility of charges sneaking up on someone. It should also be noted that avoiding using a credit card means that someone might build their credit history more slowly and sluggishly, and this could have negative ramifications long term.
Everyone is looking for ways to improve their cash flow right now, and as such, evaluating each and every option out there is vitally important. We might even see an accelerated push toward a cashless society following the pandemic. BNPL is still in some early stages, but it’s likely to see increased acceptance and usage as we continually push toward online sales.