Private Label Credit Cards Market Buffeted by COVID-19, BNPL

Press Release
Jun 4, 2021

According to Packaged Facts’ just-released report, Private Label Credit Cards in the U.S., transactions and dollar volume for private-label credit cards dropped sharply with the onset of COVID-19, but then experienced recovery in the second half of the year.  Even so, Packaged Facts projects flat to low growth in upcoming years for the private-label card market, with receivables estimated at $142 billion in 2020.

Private label credit cards, also called store cards, are the original credit cards. Traditional private label credit cards are good for in-store credit only, as opposed to store credit cards that are co-branded with Visa, Mastercard, or American Express, and therefore applicable for general use.

Private label credit card performance will continue to be hampered by the bankruptcies of some large partner retailers, tied not only to the accelerated surge in e-commerce in the wake of COVID-19, but to the longer-term trend of mall closings since 2010. 

Also factoring in are the changing payment preferences of Millennials and Gen Z.  Younger adult shoppers are demanding access to point-of-sale (POS), buy-now, pay-later (BNPL) offers that let them pay for purchases in four equal installments, interest free, while receiving their purchased item as soon as the first payment is made.

Large retailers are partnering with BNPL digital solutions for their online shoppers and are beginning to offer BNPL as an option at store check-out, but those who have leaned on their private-label credit cards to open channels of communication with their customers and to cement and nurture loyalty can find BNPL challenging. As noted by report analyst Elizabeth Rowe, “a private-label credit card generates income for a retailer, while a BNPL product costs the retailer money. It hurts, but it does increase average shopping cart size, lower rates of cart abandonment, and it is what consumers are demanding.”

The private-label retail credit card market is dominated by six bank issuers, led by Synchrony Financial, Citi Retail Services, and Capital One.  As of first quarter 2021, 55% of adults had private-label credit cards in their own name, with 80% of these cardholders having used them in the last 30 days. The most widely held private-label credit cards by retailer type are department stores, discount stores, and club stores, followed clothing stores or pure-play Internet stores such as Amazon.

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