Buy Now, Pay Later: What Merchants Need to Watch Out For
Table of Contents
- What Is Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL)?
- How Do BNPL Services Work?
- What Kinds of BNPL Options Are Available to Merchants?
- What Kind of BNPL Fraud Is Out There?
- How Do BNPL Services Affect Chargebacks?
- The Risks of BNPL
- What Are Buy Now Pay Later Apps?
- Does Amazon Do Buy Now Pay Later?
- What Are the Most Popular Buy Now Pay Later Services?
In recent decades, we've seen the emergence of countless new payment methods. There are payment methods made for e-commerce, like PayPal, methods meant for retail, like Apply Pay, and even methods meant for sending money between friends, like Venmo. Curiously, however, one of the hottest new methods of payment is also in a way one of the oldest: buy now, pay later (BNPL).
BNPL is really just a fancy new marketing name for an installment plan. While we don't know how long humans have been paying for purchases in installments, the term installment plan dates back to at least 1876, making it at least 145 years old. The breakthrough responsible for the sudden rise in interest in installment plans, however, is the idea of third-party BNPL providers. These providers pay merchants up front for purchases made using their service, then recoup their money over time from the customer. That means merchants can provide the convenience of paying in installments without taking on the financial risk. What do merchants need to know about how BNPL works, the benefits it can provide, and the risks associated with it?
What Is Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL)?
Like credit cards, BNPL services can help customers stretch out payments for large purchases that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, but they’re accessible to customers who don’t have access to a credit card or don't want to use one. This can be especially valuable for younger customers, who are often reluctant to sign up for credit cards with high interest rates and unable to qualify for cards with lower interest.
While there’s nothing stopping merchants from implementing their own in-house BNPL plans, many merchants choose instead to contract to third-party providers who deal with management of the installment payments.
Services like Affirm, Klarna, and AfterPay allow shoppers to exercise the BNPL option at a wide range of e-commerce stores. Interest in BNPL services is booming — more than a third of US customers have used it in some form, and its share of the global e-commerce market continues to grow.
Most analysts will cite bad credit or fear of credit card debt as one of the primary drivers of BNPL’s growth, and the generation that grew up in the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis has understandable reasons to be wary of big banks and their traditional credit instruments. BNPL allows these customers to pay for big purchases in a manageable way.
BNPL plans have advantages for merchants as well. Those who sell high-value goods may be able to attract new customers who would otherwise shy away from spending so much money all at once. BNPL can also reduce shopping cart abandonment caused by sticker shock.
How Do BNPL Services Work?
Some BNPL services offer a fixed number of installments, others allow the customer to choose the installment plan they prefer. Most plans run in the range of 3 to 12 monthly payments.
Customers are charged late fees if they don’t make their installment payments on time and may be reported to credit bureaus.
Once the loan is approved and created, the merchant receives payment in full from the provider. Most BNPL providers have a quick approval process that involves a “soft pull” of the customer’s credit history that will not affect their credit score.
There are also some less common models for BNPL providers: Some providers invoice the customer for repayment in full after a set period of time, and some credit card issuers offer their customers BNPL plans with a set repayment schedule and a lower interest rate than the credit card itself.
What Kinds of BNPL Options Are Available to Merchants?
With merchant transaction fee loans, a loan is provided to the customer at the point of sale. No interest is charged to the customer as long as they make their payments on time. Instead, the merchant is charged a transaction fee.
Merchants typically pay the BNPL provider between 2% and 8% of the purchase amount, and in some cases a small per-transaction fee. Providers typically don't disclose their pricing up front, so merchants interested in pursuing a relationship with a BNPL provider should expect to go through a process of registering an account and submitting business information to receive a quote.
While the fees a merchant pays to buy now pay later services might seem steep, these services can bring in customers and encourage purchases that might not otherwise be made, especially when the offered installment plans don't charge interest.
BNPL services can be particularly valuable for merchants who sell goods or services that come with a hefty price tag, as the option to pay nothing up front can help hold onto customers who might otherwise be driven away by sticker shock. Different BNPL providers have claimed increases in average order value ranging from 40% to 85% for merchants who partner with them.
With shopper interest loans, no fees are charged to the merchant, but the customer pays interest as part of their installment plan. This makes BNPL a more attractive option for merchants, but a less attractive option for their customers, reducing some of the benefits of offering it.
Offering BNPL options can be particularly valuable during the holiday season, when customers increase their spending buying gifts for friends and loved ones. Many customers are highly conscious of the extra strain put on their accounts during the holidays, and the option to reduce the immediate pressure by spreading the payments out over several months can be very attractive.
What Kind of BNPL Fraud Is Out There?
Because they aren’t billed immediately, it may take the victim some time before they even realize they’ve been targeted.
The good news for merchants is that most BNPL providers accept liability for the financial cost of fraud when incidents like these occur. However, customers still tend to hold merchants responsible (fairly or not) when they experience fraud, so it’s always in the merchant’s best interests to screen out orders that carry strong fraud indicators, such as:
- New and unusual purchasing behavior
- Logins from new devices or IP addresses
- Multiple transactions within a short period of time
- Changes to the shipping address
Merchants should reach out to customers whose transactions set off these alarms to confirm that they really intended to place the order. Automated anti-fraud tools may be employed to review and flag orders, but beware of relying too much on automation to block fraudulent orders. False positives are not uncommon, and you can alienate your real customers if you don’t take the time to manually review and verify them.
How Do BNPL Services Affect Chargebacks?
They can try disputing any payments they might have made to the provider, but in the vast majority of cases, the provider will have made the customer agree to terms and conditions that would invalidate the chargeback.
BNPL providers know that while it’s hard to predict the reasons customers might give for fraudulent chargebacks, a well-crafted purchase agreement can serve as compelling evidence in chargeback disputes where the cardholder is claiming merchant fraud or error.
Just make sure you get customers to take some action to indicate their agreement to your terms, such as checking a box or clicking a link, so they can’t claim they were never informed.
Merchants should review each provider’s policies on merchant disputes before partnering with them. Most providers will not get involved or attempt to reverse a payment if the customer has an issue with the quality of the product or services they purchased.
While there's no risk of chargebacks when purchases are made through a BNPL service, merchants could see a higher rate of purchases being returned for refunds. Some customers may be more likely to make impulse purchases due to the fact that they won't have to pay anything right away. Then when it's time for the first installment, they might realize they've made a purchase they can't really afford and ask for a return.
The Risks of BNPL
Economic downturns, mistrust of credit cards and big banks, and increased awareness of the perils of consumer debt have created the perfect conditions for BNPL services to thrive. To some, their sudden popularity may be a little concerning. While they may not accrue the same high rates of interest as credit cards, customers can just as easily overextend themselves on BNPL installments and find themselves defaulting on snowballing payments.
One of the most significant concerns is the fact that many BNPL models may not be financially sustainable over time, which means that the terms—and costs—of such plans may be subject to change in the near future, especially as the expansion of major credit card issuers into BNPL space turns up the pressure on smaller, specialized platforms.
As is the case with many new business models, most BNPL companies are probably operating at a loss at the moment, with the goal of expanding their market share before focusing on profitability.
As the industry matures, these companies are likely to start charging either higher merchant fees or higher interest rates. That means BNPL may not be a long-term offering for some merchants, but it also means that now is a good time for merchants to take advantage of these services before prices go up.
One other concern is the interaction between BNPL and currency exchange rates in cross-border payments. Over the duration of the installment plan, the exchange rate between the customer's currency and the merchant's currency may change. Merchants should know in advance whether they or their customers will be asked to compensate for significant changes in exchange rates. For now, the default arrangement seems to be that the BNPL provider absorbs the costs of detrimental changes and the benefits of positive changes. However, merchants should check the policies of their existing or potential BNPL providers.
Right now, merchants are fairly well insulated from the risks associated with BNPL and stand to gain much by expanding their customer base and selling more high-ticket items through BNPL purchases. Just be aware that as BNPL matures, so too will the scams and fraud attacks associated with it. Merchants should do their best to stay on top of anti-fraud news and update their defenses regularly to avoid getting blindsided by evolving cyber threats.