INDIANAPOLIS -- The strings attached to layaway programs at some of
the nation's largest retailers have loosened a bit -- just in time for
consumers to snatch up big-ticket items such as TVs, jewelry and
cartloads of toys for the holidays.
At Toys R Us, there are no upfront fees to start a layaway from now until November. Same goes for Kmart.
Pay off your account on time at Walmart and you'll get a gift card as a reward. If you cancel your order, there's no penalty.
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are a few of the changes retailers have made as they revamp layaway
policies, offering a more consumer-friendly approach to programs that
have long been criticized by some as taking advantage of people who can
afford it the least.
As should always be the case, "beware and
know what you are getting into," says Bill Thomas, president and CEO of
the Better Business Bureau serving central Indiana.
The BBB has
filed plenty of consumer complaints on layaway, "but it appears (stores)
are trying to make layaway programs more shopper friendly," Thomas say.
"That's good for the consumers."
Good, but not void of all layaways' pitfalls.
is plenty of fine print buried in most policies -- complicated payment
schedules, sometimes hefty down payments and differing refund policies.
layaway plans impose fees when consumers fail to comply with a store's
layaway policies, says Richard Feinberg, a retail professor at Purdue
Most layaway programs require 10% to 25% of the
purchase be paid upfront. Then, customers are typically required to make
payments on a biweekly schedule although the purchase can be paid off
early with no penalties.
Canceling can be costly. For consumers
who don't pay on time or decide to back out, there is a lot to lose.
First, they don't get their merchandise. They also don't get their
service fee back and, in most cases, they are charged a cancellation fee
of $10 to $20. Wal-Mart is the exception this year.
will get a refund on what payments they've made, but it's almost never
cash. Typically, it's in the form of a gift card that must be used at
It's a good idea to get a copy of the store's
layaway policy and staple it to the receipt you get when you put an item
Retail analysts point out that the changes are aimed
at enticing consumers to use layaway and shop at the stores that offer
the most convenient layaway.
"What is striking is that these
changes are happening so soon," says Purdue's Feinberg. "The desperation
of retailers to get the consumer dollar is extremely clear in these
early efforts -- lower or no fees and penalties."
One of the
changes at Walmart this year includes offering layaway 30 days earlier.
They'll begin allowing layaways starting Sept. 16, giving consumers an
extra 30 days to pay off their purchase.
Besides the earlier
start, Walmart this year did away with its $10 fee for consumers who
canceled orders. And instead of pocketing the $5 opening fee, it is
giving it back to shoppers who pay off their accounts on time, in the
form of a gift card.
Staying the same is Wal-Mart's required down payment of 10% or $10 (whichever is greater), due at the time of purchase.
Perry perused the toy aisle of the Greenfield Walmart last week,
surprised, but glad, that she could already put items on layaway. She is
a first-time grandma this Christmas and plans to buy plenty.
me, it's a good way to budget yourself," she said. "It's great as long
as you go in knowing the rules. And it's been around forever."
programs have been around for decades, but their popularity faded as
credit cards became more accessible to more consumers.The sluggish
economy the past several years has prompted retailers to spruce up or
heavily market layaway programs, and that has a new generation of
consumers trying layaway for the first time.
Toys R Us this year
lifted its $5 opening fee through Oct. 31.The retailer wanted to
encourage customers to layaway early, giving them the maximum amount of
time to pay. All Christmas orders must be paid off by Dec. 16.
have the opportunity to make a series of small payments over time and
ensure those items are paid for and ready to be put under the tree
Christmas morning," said Katie Reczek, Toys R Us spokeswoman.
still must pay 20% down and have 50% of the total cost of the order
paid within 45 days. Kmart, too, removed its layaway service fee both
online and in stores through Nov. 17.
"We understand the
excitement holidays bring and the budget concerns that come with them,"
said Jai Holtz, vice president of financial services at Sears Holdings,
which owns Kmart. "By providing free layaway, we want to help make
holiday shopping less stressful."
The most important thing of all
when considering layaways, Thomas says, has nothing to do with the
retailer and everything to do with consumers and their personal
Consumers should ask themselves: "What is the true
schedule of payments and is that something that you are going to be able
to make work," Thomas says.
The Indianapolis Star