Gen Z Turns to Buy Now, Pay Later as Payment Alternative

By: Joanna Hanner, Senior Manager Payments Products, Payment Services at Discover Global Network

When today’s consumers pay for their new couch or outfit, they don’t even need to reach for their wallet—and not just because they’re tapping their smartphones or paying in-app. Instead, the consumer lending solution known as Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) is surging—and like many trends in payments these days, Gen Z is propelling the shift toward this payment alternative. 

Given its rising popularity with Gen Z, both merchants and payment providers are increasingly eager to provide a BNPL option to this vibrant demographic.

BNPL benefits consumers and merchants alike
There’s little doubt why. Customer satisfaction with BNPL is high, with 61 percent of those who have used the payment method reporting they are satisfied or very satisfied.1 U.S. volume of BNPL is projected to surpass the $100 billion mark annually by 2024, from $55 billion in 2021.2

The surge in these programs stems from a confluence of earlier trends. BNPL is a payment method that has evolved from “lay-away” type programs of the past. But instead of leaving the merchandise at the store until all the payments are made, the consumer can walk away with it after the first payment. Often approved through a streamlined application process directly at the point of sale or online, consumers are increasingly attracted by the offering’s ease and convenience.

These solutions originally gained popularity in Australia and Europe and are now booming internationally, with their rise in popularity even further accelerated by the growth of digital transactions during the pandemic. BNPL loans typically split the purchase price into a series of smaller payments, allowing consumers to make more predictable payments for a fixed set of months. 

Gen Z shoppers, who generally have less disposable income than older groups, find BNPL especially appealing as an easy budgeting tool. They enjoy being able to take home their merchandise, often without accumulating interest and, depending on the program, without relying on access to available credit.

These programs benefit retailers as well, since they can advertise interest-free installments as special pricing offers for shoppers—welcome features during these times of financial insecurity. In fact, merchants are often quick to absorb the associated borrowing costs to promote BNPL as “free” financing solutions for customers. 

Younger demographics have gravitated to BNPL
With a growing number of merchants seeking to incorporate BNPL into their checkout options, those targeting younger demographics will find it particularly useful. The option to divide purchases into flexible installments allows these customers to make smaller purchases, as well as bigger-ticket items, without affecting their day-to-day budgets. As a result, offering BNPL can lead to increased visits and decreased cart abandonment. 

Research shows that BNPL is popular with younger populations because it offers both predictable financial flexibility and simpler borrowing terms. In fact, many solutions offer lower interest rates than traditional credit cards. In addition, BNPL appeals to this demographic’s general desire for instant gratification. 

No wonder younger consumers are actively seeking this kind of financing alternative. Mercator Research found that 52 percent of respondents aged 18-24 used BNPL or short-term loans in the past 12 months, compared to only 12 percent of those older than 65.3

Bringing merchants and consumers new payment options
As with any borrowing facility, consumers should ensure that they borrow responsibly and never more than they can afford. It’s important that they understand the cost of possible late fees and the potential impact on their credit scores. When part of a well-considered financial plan, consumers are finding that BNPL can play a valuable role in encouraging financially responsible borrowing. 

For payment providers and merchants, it’s also vital to consider BNPL’s role as just one of a growing set of payment options, each of which can be profitably integrated into their payments ecosystem. As BNPL continues to grow in popularity, it represents an increasingly important opportunity for retailers—especially those eager to appeal to a younger segment of consumers. 


1 Mercator Advisory Group, Spring 2021. 2021 North American PaymentsInsights-Buy Now Pay Later. Viewed 24th August, 2021.

2 Mercator Advisory Group, May 2021. Buy Now, Pay Later: Gaining Scale and Disrupting the Status Quo in Lending. Viewed 24th August, 2021. 

3 Mercator Advisory Group, Spring 2021. 2021 North American Payments Insights-Buy Now Pay Later. Viewed 24th August, 2021.

The information provided herein is sponsored by Discover® Global Network. It is intended for informational purposes, and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.