Posts by Alec Foege - New York

Retailers retool holiday layaway plans for post-recession economy

Back in 2009, Kmart and Sears revived the old Christmas layaway concept, first popularized during the Great Depression, as we noted at the time. Toys “R” Us and Best Buy followed suit with their own iterations. But even as the recession has subsided, the layaway concept has endured (getting a PR boost last December when “layaway angels” began paying off random balances at Kmarts and Walmarts around the U.S.). With many Americans still struggling and reluctant to pile more debt onto credit cards, merchants are filling in the gap to get the sale, with both brick-and-mortar and online retailers revving up their pay-over-time concepts for the upcoming holiday season.

Accordingly, the layaway landscape is getting more competitive. Within the past two weeks, Toys “R” Us said it would waive its service fee and minimum purchase amount until Oct. 31, after which it will be $5. “WOW!! No upfront fees!” proclaims the retailer’s site. Then Sears’ Kmart announced that it too would waive its layaway fees, through mid-November. And after initially tripling the fee, to $15, Walmart dropped it back down to $5, which is refunded after customers make their final payment. The retailer also extended its layaway program by a month (it kicks off Sept. 16), giving customers more time to pay, and added more eligible items.

Online retailers are jumping into the layaway game, too: eLayaway offers Internet retailers a turnkey solution for managing their layaway programs. And Globalgroup Investment Holdings, a payment and collection services company, is preparing to launch “America’s Layaway Mall,” an online department store targeting “fiscally challenged” shoppers with various payment plans for electronics, jewelry and other bigger-ticket items.

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