Aug. 2, 2021, 12:45 p.m. EDT

The buy now, pay later wave: Afterpay, Klarna, Affirm and rivals hope to take U.S. by storm

new
Watchlist Relevance
LEARN MORE

Want to see how this story relates to your watchlist?

Just add items to create a watchlist now:

  • X
    Peloton Interactive Inc. (PTON)
  • X
    Affirm Holdings Inc. Cl A (AFRM)
  • X
    Visa Inc. Cl A (V)

or Cancel Already have a watchlist? Log In

By Emily Bary

1 2

The company now works with 23,000 retail brands in the U.S. including Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209801102/composite BBBY -1.15% and Lululemon Athletica Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204011506/composite LULU +1.79% . A recent partnership with Stripe made it easy for that company’s merchants to easily activate Afterpay as a checkout option.

The company may process 10% to 30% of transactions for its retail partners once enabled as a payment option, Molnar said.

Afterpay is building a presence beyond the checkout button, with 17% of purchases globally during the month of February originating from Shop Directory, meaning that these customers are locating merchants through Afterpay’s app or site.

While Afterpay is relatively new in the U.S., its success in Australia “puts into perspective where Afterpay can expand as a business,” Molnar said. In Australia, 25% of volume comes from in-store purchases, and consumers can pay for things like dentist visits using the service.

The company is also launching its own consumer savings accounts in Australia, something that could help the company deepen its customer relationships and cut back on credit-card processing fees if consumers opted to fund purchases with their Afterpay bank accounts.

Afterpay looks on track to combine forces with Square after the payment processor announced a $29 billion all-stock deal for the BNPL company. Square sees opportunities to drive more links between its merchant and consumer businesses by integrating BNPL options into the seller experience and the options available to consumers using its Cash App mobile wallet.

Klarna

With a name that’s a play off the Swedish word for “clear,” Klarna is looking to make its mark in the U.S. after seeing success in Europe with what it says is a more clear and transparent approach to offering credit.

The company’s mission is “not to be at checkout of every single website like PayPal” but rather to “be at the intersection of payments, shopping, and banking,” according to David Skyes, the head of the company’s U.S. business.

For Klarna, that means engaging customers beyond the point of purchase, allowing them to track their packages within the Klarna app, where they may also be tempted to view items from other retailers, add products to their wish lists, or even deposit money with the company at a “slightly higher interest rate,” Sykes said.   

See also: The fight to shave milliseconds off your purchases

Like Affirm, Klarna offers shopping from within its own app-based browser, also allowing customers to make purchases from retailers like Amazon. “The biggest challenge is that a customer discovers you on Sephora and then they go to Amazon and you’re not there,” Sykes said, but the in-app browser lets consumers “shop anywhere” without worrying about the behind-the-scenes work that enables Klarna to split these payments.

Klarna’s app launched about a year ago in the U.S., where it now has 3.5 million monthly active users.

Customers tend to use their debit cards for purchases with BNPL services, but Sykes acknowledges that debit cards “aren’t that great of a product.” For one, shoppers don’t get rewards points with typical debit-card use, the way they would when shopping with their credit cards, so Klarna launched its own loyalty program to offer some perks for BNPL shopping. The program is “growing ferociously fast,” he said.

Klarna’s most popular product is an interest-free pay-in-four installment offering, with average order values of $140 to $150 across North America. The company also offers a pay-in-30 option that lets consumers pay 30 days after delivery of an item, so that they can try it and decide if they want to return it.

The company charges a $7 late fee for missed payments, but a spokeswoman said that Klarna doesn’t report to the credit bureaus for the Pay in 4 and Pay in 30 offerings.

PayPal

PayPal is no stranger to letting customers pay over time, having acquired Bill Me Later, an early online-credit service, more than a decade ago while still under the eBay Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204653455/composite EBAY -0.37% umbrella.

The company has since ventured into the BNPL universe, introducing its Pay In Four product for U.S. users last summer and letting them make four interest-free payments over six weeks. PayPal had a key advantage in its rollout, as it was able to offer the feature to its millions of existing merchants and at no extra cost beyond what those merchants ordinarily pay for the company’s payment-processing functions.

The company’s deep merchant relationships make it so the company is “the only virtually ubiquitous option,” said Greg Lisiewski, the vice president of PayPal’s global pay-later products. (Morgan Stanley analysts have calculated that PayPal is accepted by about 80% of the top 500 U.S. internet retailers.)

For more: Here’s how PayPal hopes to turn Venmo into the next PayPal

Merchants using Pay In Four have seen a 39% lift in average order value relative to standard PayPal usage, Lisiewski said. He argued that PayPal has a “significant underwriting advantage” because of its industry history and data on consumers’ payment patterns.

Lisiewski, who came to PayPal through the Bill Me Later acquisition, expects that BNPL products will exist in concert with more traditional credit offerings. Despite talk of millennial skepticism toward traditional credit, PayPal’s research in conjunction with industry-publication PYMNTS.com found that almost 90% of the generation had credit cards.

“I think there’s going to be room for all of it,” he said, with BNPL proving useful for smaller and medium purchases and more traditional credit offerings serving higher-value purchases.

Uplift

While the BNPL industry features players that are looking to boost their own brand value through apps and loyalty programs, travel-focused Uplift sees value in working more behind-the-scenes.

“If you’re making the payment brand primary and having them take customers and remarket them, that’s a bad trade for big enterprise brands,” Chief Executive Brian Barth said. “If you want to use Uplift on United, you go to the United app.”

Uplift, which works with travel companies like Carnival Corp. /zigman2/quotes/202325446/composite CCL -0.89% and recently signed a partnership with Southwest Airlines Co. /zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite LUV +0.08% , helps consumers finance leisure purchases from $100 flights to $25,000 cruises using both simple-interest and interest-free offerings.

The privately held company had a “record” month in March, even though cruise lines can’t yet sail, and it’s “bracing for steady growth” now that the travel corridors are reopening, according to Barth.

Visa

Visa makes money when people use installment-payment offerings with their Visa debit or credit cards, but the company is also testing out a way to become involved in BNPL more directly. The card giant has a U.S. pilot program with Commerce Bank through which consumers using debit and credit cards issued by the bank will be able to see installment options on merchant sites where the technology is enabled.

“We’re trying to take the already approved issuer credit lines into installment payment options,” Mary Kay Bowman, Visa’s global head of seller solutions, told MarketWatch. People would pay off their installments using debit but leverage their existing lines of credit with the bank.

See also: Visa sees ‘massive’ digital acceleration as millions try e-commerce for the first time

The pilot is focused on Commerce Bank in the U.S., but Visa has seen success with similar efforts overseas and it’s more broadly been enabling installment payments for decades. Brazil has been an early adopter of split payments, and half of Visa’s credit purchase volume in the country comes from installment payments whether on payment terminals or online, Bowman said. Installments are also popular in Mexico and Turkey, she added.

A crowded field of potential rivals

The BNPL market has become crowded in the U.S., with companies like QuadPay, now part of Australia’s Zip Co. Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204821265/delayed AU:Z1P -2.44% , also in the mix, in addition to more traditional financial companies. American Express Co. /zigman2/quotes/203805826/composite AXP -1.38% has a feature called Plan It that lets cardholders put up to 10 large purchases in a “plan” and then pay for that over time alongside a fixed monthly fee. Chase /zigman2/quotes/205971034/composite JPM -0.14% also has a feature that lets customers pay for $100+ purchases over time with a monthly fee.

/zigman2/quotes/209801102/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 14.15
-0.17 -1.15%
Volume: 533,795
Oct. 25, 2021 10:12a
P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
0.00%
Market Cap
$1.45 billion
Rev. per Employee
$245,559
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/204011506/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 429.30
+7.57 +1.79%
Volume: 76,722
Oct. 25, 2021 10:12a
P/E Ratio
67.61
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$54.75 billion
Rev. per Employee
$176,075
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/204653455/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 80.30
-0.30 -0.37%
Volume: 961,858
Oct. 25, 2021 10:13a
P/E Ratio
4.32
Dividend Yield
0.89%
Market Cap
$52.39 billion
Rev. per Employee
$807,559
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/202325446/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 22.09
-0.20 -0.89%
Volume: 6.86M
Oct. 25, 2021 10:13a
P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
0.00%
Market Cap
$24.94 billion
Rev. per Employee
N/A
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 47.67
+0.04 +0.08%
Volume: 985,559
Oct. 25, 2021 10:13a
P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
0.00%
Market Cap
$28.18 billion
Rev. per Employee
$160,142
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/204821265/delayed
AU : Australia: Sydney
$ 6.79
-0.17 -2.44%
Volume: 5.46M
Oct. 25, 2021 4:10p
P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$3.97 billion
Rev. per Employee
$397,519
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/203805826/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 184.50
-2.58 -1.38%
Volume: 592,358
Oct. 25, 2021 10:13a
P/E Ratio
19.35
Dividend Yield
0.93%
Market Cap
$148.62 billion
Rev. per Employee
$599,451
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/205971034/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 171.53
-0.25 -0.14%
Volume: 1.33M
Oct. 25, 2021 10:13a
P/E Ratio
10.89
Dividend Yield
2.32%
Market Cap
$513.31 billion
Rev. per Employee
$492,730
loading...

1 2
This Story has 0 Comments
Be the first to comment
More News In
Industries

Story Conversation

Commenting FAQs »

Partner Center

Link to MarketWatch's Slice.