Some of the country’s biggest retailers are resurrecting a modern version of a long-retired payment option similar to layaway or rent-to-pay — buy now, pay later.
With over 11 million people still unemployed due to the pandemic, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sephora, Target and Amazon are some of the hundreds of retailers who are offering shoppers a way to parse out interest-free payments debited from a bank account over time for holiday gifts instead of forcing consumers to pay with high-interest credit cards.
“The millennials and Gen Z generation saw their parents go through an immense amount of hardship [during the financial crisis] where the American consumer was over-leveraged,” Rafe Petkovic, chief revenue officer of Columbus, Ohio-based payment solutions company Klarna, told NBC News. “Today’s consumers are certainly wising up, and that has been a significant acceleration in the market opportunity here today.”
Already, consumers have used their money differently from the generation that survived the Great Recession. In the first three months of 2020, consumers improved their average credit scores and decreased delinquencies across all debt, according to a September analysis by Experian credit-reporting agency. However, in 2008, going into the recession, consumer debt spiked by 4 percent, credit scores went up by just two points and delinquencies were reduced at a slower rate than today’s borrowers.
Over Black Friday weekend, one company said it processed five times more transactions than in its first four years of operation combined.
“Though the current recession’s initial three months of consumer debt and credit data paint a positive picture of consumer finances, unemployment has spiked to historic highs in 2020,” the bureau reported. “As income declines and stimulus aid continues to lapse, consumers’ finances may change as people seek ways to cover their expenses.”
Before the pandemic, the digitally native younger generations were already quickly adopting “point-of-sale” loans from companies such as Affirm, Afterpay, Klarna and Quadpay. But over the course of the pandemic-induced recession, these payment options have skyrocketed with the rise in e-commerce and the willingness of retailers to work with customers, David Bassuk, a managing director with AlixPartners, told NBC News.
Consumer downloads of Klarna are up over 106 percent from last year, Petkovic said. In the first month of the pandemic, Affirm saw a 163 percent increase in home fitness sales, and home office sales grew 200 percent. Over Black Friday weekend, Afterpay said it saw a 186 percent increase in sales, while Klarna said it processed five times more transactions over the weekend than in all the first four years of operation combined.
“We think this is just the start of more disruption to come,” Petkovic told NBC News.
The loans work like this: Retailers pay a transaction fee on every sale, and shoppers pay their balance over time with their debit account. Affirm, which charges interest rates between 10 and 30 percent, report to one credit bureau. But Klarna, Quadpay and Afterpay do not. Each company charges a late payment fee that ranges from $35