More retailers are offering 'buy now, pay later' options—but are consumers using them?

Buy now, pay later (BNPL) services have emerged in recent years as more retailers, including Walmart and Macy’s, began offering consumers financing options when checking out.

BNPL has been an area of focus for many brands for some time. In a November 2019 survey from accounting firm BDO, more than two-thirds (68%) of US retailers said they offered—or planned to offer—Afterpay, a popular digital service that allows users to pay in installments.

In January 2020, 52% of US retailers said they planned to increase marketing investments in alternative payments, according to research from CommerceNext. Then in June, another 40% of respondents said they were going to increase those investments.

In turn, adoption of these services has grown among consumers (particularly Gen Z and millennials, who are not using credit cards). That said, there’s a lot of room for growth.

According to a February 2021 survey conducted for us by Bizrate Insights, nearly half of US adults polled said they had not used BNPL services at checkout and were not interested in doing so. In fact, just 10% of respondents said they used this option regularly, with another 11% saying they used it before, though not frequently.

What may be hindering greater adoption is the fact that many consumers aren’t really aware of digital payment installment services or what they do. In that same Bizrate Insights survey, 11% of US adults said as much—an indication that there should be a lot more education around this payment method.

Another factor contributing to slower adoption is the fact that there are a variety of payment methods out there, many of which consumers are just more comfortable and familiar with. In an August 2020 survey from Capgemeni, 30.1% of consumers worldwide named BNPL as the most popular ecommerce payment method. While that’s a significant figure, there were five other payment methods cited—including credit cards—that were favored more.

The good new is that consumers are seeing some benefits with BNPL services versus credit cards or digital wallets, at least according to September 2020 data from and PayPal. For example, 41.8% of US adults surveyed said they had used BNPL because of the clarity of fees or interest rates, whereas as just 11.2% and 16.3% said the same for credit cards and digital wallets, respectively.

What's more, 39.1% of respondents said they used BNPL because they were able to monitor spending. In comparison, fewer US adults agreed when it came to using a credit card or digital wallet. But when it came to rewards offered, more than two-thirds (68.7%) of respondents used their credit cards versus the 24.3% who used BNPL.