Sears (re)joins the layaway revival

Nearly two decades after Sears discontinued its layaway plan, the pre-payment service will be available again starting Sunday for customers who want to put money down on items and get them later.

Where Layaway Reigns

    Sears did away with layaway nearly twenty years ago (at least for most products except fine jewelry), but now is jumping back on the bandwagon as of Sunday. Except for major appliances and home electronics (like that flat-screen you can't afford), customers will be able to put money down on an item to retrieve later, for just a low fee but no interest.

    Michael Dwyer, AP

    K-Mart got back on the layaway bandwagon in mid-October, and has been touting its revival in ads that encourage shoppers to come and shop early for holiday wares.

    Mark Humphrey, AP

    Monroe Milstein, founder, CEO and president of Burlington Coat Factory, has long had a layaway program, which is 30 days for regular merchandise and 90 days for Baby Depot items. There is a $5.00 service fee.

    Daniel Hulshizer, AP

    TJ Maxx has also had a layaway program all along, which requires 10 percent down and pick-up with full payment within 30 days. No fee is specified on the company's Web site.

    Elise Amendola, AP

    Marshalls, owned by the same parent company as TJ Maxx, has a similar layaway policy.

    Paul Sakuma, AP

    The Web has also taken to layaway, as services like offer the ability to use a third-party service for layaway-type purchases.

    Wal-Mart used to have a robust layaway service, but did away with it in 2006 and has yet to revive it. Other retailers, like Circuit City and JC Penney, also discontinued their programs.

    Paul Sakuma, AP

    Target never got on the layaway bandwagon at all, and has made no indication that it plans to hop aboard anytime soon.

    Tony Gutierrez, AP

Sears never fully left layaway completely -- it has been offering it for fine jewelry since 1989 -- but now it will be there for customers who want anything but home appliances and home electronics.

Why is Sears back in the layaway game? Have you seen the stock market ticker lately? As the economy sours and consumer dollars stay in their wallets, Sears is jumping on the return to layaway bandwagon with K-Mart, Burlington Coat Factory, Marshall's and TJ Maxx. Yet to return to layaway this holiday season: Toys 'R Us, Wal-Mart, Target and JC Penney.

WalletPop named layaway one of the most underrated things in America in a recent series, and also labeled it, "the new black."Not surprisingly, layaway had its heyday in the financial crisis of the '20s and '30s. Easy credit and the proliferation of credit cards in the 1970's led many retailers to discontinue the program. The notion of paying for something BEFORE you get to have it lost its credibility for many Americans. Layaway carried the aroma of poor credit and bargain-bin shoppers. It's a surprisingly emotional topic, stirring up memories of poor, hardworking parents who are struggling to afford nice things for their families.

This is what one of WalletPop's readers, Lynn, had to say about it: "When I was growing up I would have had no Christmas gifts if my mom did not have Layaway available to her. And she taught me that it was a good way to buy for my own kids. Now my children are young adults and will be having children of their own and I hope this comes back so it will be available to them. It is a MUCH better way to buy than credit cards!!"

Layaway doesn't incline people to impulse purchases since by definition you can't take it with you. Although policy varies from store to store, there is usually a small flat service fee ($5-$10) and a cancellation fee in the same range which is returned when payment is completed. Some stores require 20% down. One good thing is that customers paying on layaway don't wind up paying interest a decade after their purchase has taken up residence in the landfill.

Like many of the adjustments the recession is causing in our lifestyles, layaway reflects a return to old values. It could turn out to be a very good thing.
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