That is not to say that the future of shopping necessarily rhymes with impossible price tags and liabilities. Alternatives to BNPL have steadily cropped up over the years and/or made successful transitions to the web, in the form of thrift stores, coupon-oriented companies, and rent-to-own shops. Some, like author and journalist Elizabeth Cline, advocate for a return to slow fashion and sustainability, echoing familiar calls for minimalism. Others put forth an even more radical solution: step away from the phone, and from online shopping altogether.
Kevin Drum states, in Mother Jones, “Frankly, if layaway really does provide a psychological prod to make the payments, it’s not a bad deal at all.” The same mindset could apply to those who would pick up what BNPL is putting down: an incentive to be financially vigilant, provided that one has done one’s homework, and has the means to see the commitment through.
The safest alternative, however, is to be wary of the too-easy way that BNPL skewers our perception of control when it comes to big purchases camouflaged as smaller ones. It may sting momentarily, but it's better than an enticing, would-be attainable purchase coming to haunt us in the long term. This, especially in light of more pressing matters like the coronavirus pandemic that reminds us that we need to be more frugal, more prudent—not less.
And if we cannot stop disassociating the aforementioned notions of buying versus paying, perhaps it is long overdue that we rethink our relationship to ownership altogether.