Is the cost of living crisis a blessing or bombshell for BNPL?

Buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) is quickly changing the face of consumer finance. If used correctly, BNPL has many benefits for consumers, including convenience, efficiency, and customer experience. Younger people in particular are embracing the chance to alleviate their financial pressures by staggering payments through installments. 

From a business perspective too, everyone is entering the BNPL arena – traditional banks, retailers, fintechs and more recently, even tech giants. While it has been around for years – Klarna was established in Sweden in 2005 after all – we now have a perfect mix of consumer demand and understanding; and the innovation from key B2C and B2B players to realise its potential.

However, danger and risk are threatening its continued rise. Inflation is at its highest rate for about 30 years, and it is about to accelerate even further throughout April, causing more and more people to fall into debt as they struggle to pay bills. The majority of people up and down the country are feeling the pressure, not only from the energy prices that are fuelling the rise in living costs, but also from the likes of consumer goods and fuel prices.

As the rise in the cost of living squeezes wallets, does BNPL become a blessing or a bombshell? And reputationally, does it face an uncertain future?

Approach with caution

Understandably there is a degree of caution surrounding BNPL, notably with credit bureaus now considering factoring it into credit records. And it’s increasingly clear that those who are financially vulnerable are at higher risk of falling into debt, especially when they start using BNPL schemes for essentials such as groceries. 

Record rises in the cost of living have accelerated these concerns, and what was once seen as a ‘godsend’ payment solution has morphed into something a lot more complicated for many people who are struggling financially.

Our own research surveying 2,010 GB consumers found that over half of 18-24 (52%) and 25-34 year olds (53%) admit they are less confident at making their BNPL payments following rising prices and living costs. 

However, we also found the consumer appetite for BNPL is still prevalent, with over half of  18-25 (60%), 25-34 (57%) and 35-44 (53%) year olds feeling that BNPL is a great option when they are short of cash. As well as this, almost 1 in 3 (29%) say they are “more likely” to use BNPL in 2022 than last year. 

This demonstrates that while the rise in living costs is causing a lack of confidence amongst consumers, the demand for this payment solution prevails; and will continue to grow in the foreseeable future. It is a powerful innovation and can bring about enormous consumer benefit. The industry needs to tread softly and appreciate that at this time, when life is getting harder, it is more important than ever to act responsibly and gain trust. The industry must not be seen to capitalise on consumer desperation. 

Responsibility of regulation

In the short term, the industry is still unregulated. So BNPL providers will be under the spotlight. Lots of attention will be on how and when the UK will regulate BNPL products. Attempts have already been made to prevent users from delaying payments for too long and encourage responsible spending. For example, Klarna’s rewards programme allows consumers to earn points every time they use the immediate payment option or make an on-time repayment. Acts of compliance will be fundamental in making the payment option more appealing and trustworthy for consumers. This is especially the case for those BNPL providers that are now in direct competition with banks that are compliant by default. 

BNPL providers that welcome regulatory intervention with open arms will earn their reputation. Doing this ahead of the enforcement will help win over both consumers and regulators. The PR priority right now is to build reputation and recognition for responsible lending; and to understand that the cost of living crisis represents more danger than opportunity for BNPL players. 

If you like what you see, and want to know how Nelson Bostock can help your brand, then email


Walnut Unlimited conducted a nationally representative omnibus survey of 2,010 adults across GB between 23rd and 25th March 2022. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).


My Metaverse Meeting

When I was invited to a meeting in the metaverse, my heart sank a little. Was it fear of the unknown or fighting the buzz and all-round obsession with the Metaverse? Who knows?

We do know that we must embrace the ‘Future of work’. Be that hybrid or fully remote. Let’s be honest, the likelihood of many of us ever coming back into the office five days a week is slim. And most of us are happy about that. So, it’s no surprise that the use of technology to bring us all virtually together – even if we are physically far apart – is being explored.

So back to the metaverse. What exactly is it? In summary, the “metaverse” describes a fully realised digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. Impressive hey!? Well, perhaps it is not quite as “wow” as you think. The metaverse is not new at all. It actually just hit its 30th birthday. The word was first coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, but then it was still just an idea. It came more into fruition just over a decade later in 2003 with the launch of Second Life.

So, if it’s been around for a while, why now are we seeing so much chatter?

Google is an excellent barometer of consumer sentiment and interest. I googled ‘Why is everyone…’ and it automatically suggested ‘Why is everyone talking about metaverse’. So, I guess everyone is asking the same question.

Anyway, back to my meeting.  I sat at my home office desk as normal and joined my metaverse meeting with my talented colleagues at Splendid UNLIMITED. Connecting on Horizon Workrooms, we talked all about the potential of this technology. Although still in beta phase, the Workrooms world truly showcased to me the opportunities to interact with people be those colleagues, clients, suppliers ‘in-person, from home’. Then we left the virtual office and played some metaverse mini golf!

Now, don’t get me wrong it felt very strange to be sitting at my desk wearing a headset. But really… what is normal anymore? The metaverse has the potential to unlock some truly incredible opportunities. It is admittedly early days – headsets are still pricey and supplying an entire workforce with them might be a pipedream – but competition, innovation and time will help.

Many big-name brands are already onboard. Microsoft is positioning its products for better business collaboration in the metaverse, McDonald’s recently filed several trademark applications (including one for a virtual restaurant that would deliver to an actual home!), and just last week at Mobile World Congress HTC unveiled its ‘Viverse’ vision of the metaverse.

My view is that any innovation which brings people together is brilliant and must be explored and embraced. In the modern-day, where most of us are working flexibly, communication channels that allow us to collaborate in fun ways should be championed.

My Metaverse meeting was memorable for all the right reasons. I’m excited to see how the technology develops and the creativity it inspires.

So, drop me a line, let’s meet up in the Metaverse… and play some mini golf!


What you need to know about communicating your sustainability credentials

Think you’re ready to promote your sustainability credentials? Truly understanding your audience is a vital starting point.

Check out this 3 minute summary of research which reveals the three society attitudes towards sustainability and what they mean for your comms strategy.

Get in touch with us if you’d like to hear more about what audience attitudes to sustainability mean for comms. Or read the full research from our Human Understanding Lab here.


Why are we seeing tech brands enter the automotive space?

Through 2022 we can expect to see a range of new automotive brands coming to the UK, from Nio to Byton to Rivian. While many of these are either electric brands from established automotive manufacturers or start-ups, perhaps the most interesting new entrant to the car market is Sony, which earlier this year unveiled its second EV and just last week announced a partnership with Honda to form a new company to design and sell electric vehicles together. In our latest episode of Mobility Bytes – a PR & Communications perspective on the mobility sector – we explore this latest trend and what it means for both tech and automotive brands.


Sustainable Sessions: Episode 1

There’s a growing recognition that the technology sector is responsible for mountains of e-waste and the consumption of energy and natural resources. But the world is also expecting tech to be the source of innovation which can halt the crisis. In our first episode of Sustainable Sessions we look at what tech companies need to do to tackle the climate crisis.


Mobility Bytes: Episode 2

What are the barriers we need to overcome to achieve sustainable mobility? In episode two of Mobility Bytes our tech-experts discuss what it will take to encourage people out of their cars and on to more sustainable modes of transport. We all have a stake in the debate. Let us know your thoughts.


Is Credit Card’s Challenge BNPL’s Opportunity?

Amazon’s latest decision is bound to take shoppers by surprise. The company recently announced that it will no longer accept UK-issued Visa credit cards from January. Why? According to Amazon, the main driver was the high fees charged by Visa for processing payments, which increased drastically this year. 

Since then, fresh claims have also emerged from other retailers, including Levi’s, Superdry, and AllSaints, who are taking legal action to seek compensation for previous credit card fees which breach UK and EU competition laws. 

Merchants are finding their voice and it feels like the dominance of cards is now under threat. The recent boom in the payments sector offers new ways to pay, which will come in handy as Amazon’s decision comes into effect in the new year. Alternative options, like buy-now-pay-later (BNPL), are arguably much better suited to the rapidly-evolving retail sector. But, given the current rep of BNPL companies, how can they take the crown from credit cards? 

The end of credit card domination

Online retailers that offer BNPL services are already giving their customers a new way to pay using credit, which removes the issue of high transaction fees for merchants. So the idea of ditching credit cards altogether feels much more feasible than it did five years ago. 

So is the switch inevitable? As it stands, not quite. It’s hard to bring up BNPL and ignore the scepticism such as concerns over debt and consumer protection. The lack of regulation can raise some red flags, particularly for lending amongst young or vulnerable people. However, with the peak of the Christmas shopping season incoming, BNPL is taking centre stage. Amazon’s decision coming into play will only keep this momentum going. 

BNPL is taking the wheel

So, how can BNPL lenders lead this shift in payment preference? While the unregulated, interest-free loaning can be seen as a slippery slope, its bad rep can be easily overturned given the great potential of this new way to pay. Now is the time to be seen as the hero, not the villain. 

The challenge is a problem of trust. BNPL is facing scrutiny in the media and merchants could  see  the adoption of these services as a risk to their customers and their brand. With much of the BNPL messaging encouraging customers to delay payment, it is only natural that merchants won’t want to get caught up in stories about debt spiral. The BNPL industry has to work towards promoting healthy spending habits to build trust. Only once it’s earned its reputation as a responsible lender – driven by effective comms – will BNPL truly take the payment crown.


Meet Lydia and Ellie – our Winning Minds

Last month’s Winning Minds Award went to both Ellie Hattersley, an NBU stalwart, and the excellent Lydia Richmond who joined us just a few months ago. We sat down with them this week to find out more about their passions, motivations and why a career in PR.  

Why did you pick a career in PR and Communications? 

Lydia Richmond: For me, it comes down to being creative. Comms is incredibly broad and there are many opportunities to get your teeth stuck into – I can spend a day writing copy and the next devising a social media strategy. Very cliché but every day is different, which I love, and definitely keeps it interesting.  

Ellie Hattersley: I went travelling for two years after university and did lots of writing during that time. I tried my hand at everything from freelance travel journalism to copywriting about hardware components, to help subsidise my travel around Australia, SE Asia and Central America. The skills I learned weren’t all that different to what’s expected at a PR agency – communications, working to tight deadlines, balancing a varied workload – so when my friend told me about a job opening here, I decided to apply. And I’m glad I did! I’ve worked here over three years now and still learn so much every week – plus it’s super social, and there’s always a new challenge to sink your teeth into. I also know so much more about how the world works now thanks to the tech experience.   

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you? 

LR: Remember to breathe. Take a step back and think about what value you can bring to the conversation before turning into a key board warrior! 

EH: It’s PR not ER! Back when I was an Account Assistant, I’d have a mini crisis basically on a weekly basis worrying about something that was very inconsequential – now I’ve got a lot more perspective… 

Tell us a bit more about your interests – how would you spend an ideal Saturday afternoon?  

LR: I’d go for a really long walk, hopefully find a pub with a wood fire, and stay there all afternoon. Surrounded by friends and family and good food. 

EH: Probably doing something outdoors, ideally ending with good food and a pub. Even better if it’s somewhere outside the UK, which is much more feasible now restrictions have lifted a bit! 

And what are your hobbies? 

LR: I do triathlons – running, swimming and cycling. I also love open water swimming. I’m actually part of the same triathlon club that Alex Yee (GB silver medallist) came from, and we train at the velodrome in Herne Hill. Being active is important to me – NBU’s netball club was a big attraction!  

EH: Looooads of things – reading, cooking, playing football or netball (fellow Bostock Baller here), climbing, cycling, going to gigs. And going to the pub. Is that a hobby? 

 What’s one thing that people should know about you? 

LR: I’ve watched way too many episodes of the US Office. My lockdown binge watching basically just carried on into this year.    

EH: I’m a big nerd — I find so many things interesting. 

What’s one thing that would surprise people about you? 

LR: I’m a dedicated plant mum. 

EH: I have Grade 8 in piano… don’t often tell people because they always then want me to play something for them and I’ve forgotten it all! 

What makes you a Winning Mind? 

LR: I’m relatively new to NB so it’s incredible to see this culture of people always lifting each other up. I put my hand up a lot and people really notice and acknowledge you. People notice if you try. 

EH: Workaholism (just kidding). Probably commitment and always wanting to make sure what I’m delivering is right for that client. 

Any advice for future Winning Minds contenders? 

LR: Always remember that you’re part of a team, and lean into that!  

EH: There’s no set formula – every client’s needs are different. But I would say: don’t just do the same thing because it’s what we’ve done before. There’s always room to do something different or something better – change is a good thing! And Winning Minds doesn’t always have to be about what you do, it can be the attitude that you bring. Working in NB is all about not just working with brilliant people, it’s people you really enjoy being with. 


Does every business need a social purpose?

What has soap got to do with self-confidence? Or fizzy drinks got to do with the black rights movement? Almost every big brand today has begun campaigning to become associated with something beyond what they ‘do’. Whether it’s Skittles associating itself with Pride, or Starbucks with the refugee crisis, every big brand worth their salt now seems to have a social purpose. But why?

Woking up

Good marketing should always reflect the target audience, but traditionally businesses have tended to focus on how their product fulfils their customers’ needs or desires. Our product is thirst-quenching, or it will help you do something faster, or it’ll save you money.

Until now, that approach has been aligned with the values of our society. You want something? You have it! Cheaper, faster and shinier than ever before! As L’Oreal’s slogan goes, you’re worth it.

But something has been happening lately. Perhaps it was the sight of Australia literally on fire, or the cumulative outrage of another death by police brutality, or the global pandemic giving us a very real glimpse of death. Or all of them altogether. But it’s as if we collectively all had a long look at ourselves.

Climate destruction, racism, sexism and homophobia have been happening for a very long time, but in just the last couple of years, it’s like we all experienced a kind of moral awakening and decided that we really need to do something about it.

And something is happening with businesses too. Instead of competing on price, or features, or the quality of customer experience, brands are increasingly adopting another paradigm. Instead of saying to customers: we’ve got what you want, they’re saying, we’re aligned with your values. We are, ‘a bit of you’.

Have businesses simply undergone the same moral awakening? Are we seeing a new era of responsible businesses? Or is this simply a clumsy attempt to hitch onto the next ‘big thing’? Even worse, is it a way for big corporates who often exacerbate these issues, to exploit opportunities to make even more money.

What’s difficult about this question is that it’s often your customers who make a conclusion on your behalf, which is why it’s so important to get it right.

Nailing it vs getting nailed

In 2010, Dove launched its Be Real body confidence campaign. Today, it’s still lauded as one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever. There are a few things it did really well. Firstly, it was first. Dove was one of the leading brands to try this kind of social purpose campaign. But not everybody can win that race.

The second thing they did really well – in combination – is tuning in to something that their target audience felt very strongly about: that they were constantly being berated by society about how they look and sold products to make them meet draconian modern ideals.

The third and fourth thing were the most important though. Dove had a completely relevant stake in the market, because they sold ‘beauty’ and body products, so they could easily be seen as part of the problem. But also, their message ostensibly went in the face of the commercial agenda: We’re not going to neg you to get you to buy stuff, Dove said. And everywhere, women said, aww that’s nice, how refreshing.

Fast forward to 2017 and Pepsi launching their advert about Black Lives Matter, judged as one of the most unsuccessful social purpose campaigns ever. It didn’t just flop, it went down in flames, breathed by millions of infuriated consumers.

That advert looked like the work of the most ham-fisted, insincere marketing initiative. Surely – it seemed like Pepsi were saying – 1 Major Gen Z Insta Influencer (insert any) + This Popular Social Cause (insert any) + Our Product Placement = Instant Success?

Is it worth it?

Marketing Week recently posted an article from Byron Sharp, a marketing professor, suggesting that social purpose is a kind of by-product of a confidence crisis in marketers. That we feel like we have to elevate our work above selling product, to give ourselves a sense of pride in our work. His conclusion seems to be: We should just stick to what we do best – sell stuff and take pride in doing that well; stop wading into all this social purpose stuff.

But social purpose can be successful, it’s just probably not for everybody. Nor should it be, because not every brand can truly say that a social purpose comes naturally to their brand. And that’s really the bottom line: as Kantar says in its recent media trends report, “the raison d’être of brands like Patagonia, Veja and The Beauty Counter is intrinsic, whereas campaigns from other companies might be perceived as opportunistic or insincere.”

The challenge that many brands face, is that they become so big that they feel obliged to have a brand position on major global trends. In support of the Black Lives Matter, for example, Netflix tweeted: “to be silent is to be complicit”, summing up both the societal sentiment and the position that many of the world’s biggest companies are in.

However, most companies are not considered so big or so influential on our daily lives and culture, that their stance on all societal trends are relevant and necessary. For most brands, only certain domains will be of relevance.

While there is no winning formula, here are some considerations for every brand to consider:

  • Check yourself – Good intentions from a marketing team alone are not enough to ensure success; a social cause must be embodied by your whole organisation and seem natural to an outside audience. Before you consider a social purpose campaign, ask the question – what are our credentials for having a voice on this topic?
  • Be consistent – Much like a puppy isn’t just for Christmas, a social purpose isn’t just for Pride week. Nothing screams insincere like ringing up a campaigner once a year to see if you can grasp a share in their cultural capital; or whacking on the LGBT flag on your logo and nothing else. If you support a cause, go all in and make it your concern 365 days a year.
  • Be prepared for stick – Consumers don’t like brands wading into the things they care about, particularly when they don’t think you deserve to be there. Be prepared to be criticised and take a genuine interest in whether that criticism is merited. Be prepared to eat humble pie if you were wrong. 

“Christmas now, pay later”

Would you eat a turkey in December and pay for it in the New Year? With the rise of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL), this is likely to be the first Christmas paid for by instalments!

2021 has been a phenomenal year for BNPL. It has accelerated into our lives faster than you might have imagined, and is set to make its mark this Christmas. In fact, 42% of US shoppers plan to use BNPL during the festive period, rising to 60% of Millennials – according to NB client GoCardless.

As fintech continues to innovate, it really doesn’t get much more exciting than BNPL. Just look at the stats. Brits will be spending close to £40bn a year by 2026 with BNPL (Juniper Research). Over half of the biggest fashion, baby and child, and homeware retailers offer at least one BNPL scheme, according to Which? While, from an industry perspective, Zilch has just become the fastest European fintech ever, according to Sifted

While the promises of BNPL are enormous, we can’t get carried away. Scare stories and stark warnings are everywhere. Regulation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is looming and will likely land in the next few years. The core comms challenge facing the market may be large, but not insurmountable. It is important to build credibility, familiarity and understanding. To act responsibly. Look after your customers and they will continue to trust you, retailers and ecommerce players will buy you; and regulators will (in time) treat you fairly.

BNPL is set to be the story of Christmas 2021; with more merchants offering flexible payments than ever before. This “Christmas now, pay later” moment is a great opportunity, not only for record sales, but to consolidate and grow the industry’s reputation. If BNPL players deliver a good, safe and responsible Christmas, we’ve hit another major milestone for innovation in payments. And that is the best gift of all.