For most Americans, buy now, pay later (BNPL) is still mostly an online shopping experience. That is where they first encountered the increasingly popular payment method and because BNPL offers in physical locales are less common. But Afterpay is looking to change that as the brand struck a deal with Westfield shopping centers in the U.S., teaming up to bring malls into the 21st century with joint investment in building customer experiences at Westfield shopping centers across the U.S. Starting of course, with Afterpay’s specialty — BNPL payments are now available at in-store locations like Lush Cosmetics, Aldo, The Children’s Place and The Container Store.
“Our expectation and our goal remain the same and that is to drive consumer awareness to Afterpay. So when we think about the Westfield partnership, it really provides us an opportunity to introduce Afterpay at key decision points throughout the shopping journey,” Afterpay General Manager of North America Zahir Khoja told PYMNTS in a recent conversation.
And the time is right for physical expansion, Khoja said, because consumers, after a year stuck on the couch, are eager to get back out there, with some 63 percent saying that shopping in-person feels like a special treat. Consumers, he said, want to browse the aisles, touch things and interact with sales associates — meaning now is a critical time to strike while the iron is hot and introduce Afterpay to an expanded demographic of customers who have not yet surfed the rising BNPL tide.
The Power Of Pushing Into Physical
Transacting in the physical realm isn’t a wholly new experience for Afterpay, as the firm has been doing so for some time in its home market of Australia and launched in the U.S. in October. Khoja anticipated this Westfield expansion would be unique as it comes at the tail end of an 18-month lockdown that has done a lot to familiarize consumers with BNPL and whet their appetite to travel to a mall to shop.
But that euphoria at leaving the house isn’t likely to last forever. Westfield realizes that to make the mall a stickier consumer experience going forward, what it offers will have to be more in line with the modern digital consumer’s expectations of flexibility.
“When we think about our partnerships, they represent great value to our merchants in a potentially critical role for retailers big and small looking for new creative ways of driving footfall into their stores,” he said. “Post-pandemic, our partnership with Westfield is exclusive in the buy now, pay later space and we hope to see it create a competitive moat for merchants.”
Afterpay anticipates, he said, that through this partnership with Westfield, it will continue signing on small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that want to play in the physical retail space still but are looking to digitally reinvent themselves for the new consumer.
Recreating The Physical Retail Experience
The retail landscape has changed, and consumers have changed along with it. The goal of the Westfield partnership is to help mall merchants participate in the changing retail epoch by offering an omnichannel shopping experience that makes it easier for consumers to access what they want, when they want and on any channel they want. For retailers, he said, digital versus physical doesn’t have to be an either-or choice, and in fact, should not be. With omnicommerce capabilities, it doesn’t have to be.
What consumers want, he said, is flexible, responsible spending, with responsibility being the key concept there, particularly for the younger generation of shoppers.
“They’re going to want to spend and buy and purchase in person — data tells us that millennials are among the most eager to get back into the mall,” he said. “So adding technologies like buy now, pay later into traditional shopping centers is another step to bring them into this world of the future of retail.”