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March 23, 2023

Retailers are embracing alternative payment methods, though cards are still king

“Will that be cash or credit?” Those familiar words have probably been uttered at stores and restaurants billions of times over the last 50 years or so.

But today, cashiers could ask, “Will that be cash or credit … or Apple Pay or Google Pay or Venmo or PayPal?” And if they aren’t saying it already, they might soon tell customers, “You can also participate in a buy now, pay later service — we offer Affirm, Afterpay and Klarna. And if you prefer to pay with cryptocurrency, we accept bitcoin, Ethereum, Tether …”

What’s next for alternative payments?

If you’re an overwhelmed retailer wondering what the future of alternative payments looks like, the crystal ball is hazy, but there are several scenarios that will likely play out.

Some retailers will opt for creating their own installment plans

Rakesh Gupta, an associate professor of decision sciences and marketing at Adelphi University, points out that BNPL programs offered by companies like Klarna and Afterpay charge merchants about 5% of the transaction amount. That’s double the average credit card “swipe” fee, making BNPL much more expensive for retailers to accept than an ordinary credit card. But if a retailer sets up its own installment payment plan, that “may marginally improve revenues and profits,” he says.

Most retailers aren’t likely to want to spend resources creating their own program, though some that have say it has been a success.

There are benefits to working out payment arrangements with customers, according to Larry Sutton, founder and CEO of RNR Tire Express, a tire retailer with 173 locations that lets customers buy tires outright or pay for them monthly, biweekly or weekly.

Sutton was offering the BNPL-like installment program long before BNPL came on the scene and says it has helped foster stronger relationships with his customers.

“They pay us directly and not a third party,” Sutton says. “When these traditional tire dealerships use the BNPL programs, they are handing over the relationship to a third party and may never see or hear from that customer again.”

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